The big, bad New England Patriots dynasty hasn’t looked so big and bad since quarterback Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay. This year, with former offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels departing to become the head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, the Patriots might be facing their biggest challenge yet.
For one thing, McDaniels deserves a lot of credit for quarterback Mac Jones’ success in his rookie season. He kept Jones safe from needing to carry the offense with his arm, predominantly leaning on run plays, play-action, and passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. The results weren’t perfect, especially as the season went on and defenses figured out his favorite routes and targets and the rookie mistake began to surface. But for the most part, Jones’ rookie season was a big success.
Of the rookie starters that started a majority of their teams’ games in 2021, Jones was statistically the most accurate and had the most passing yards and touchdowns. He even had a couple 300-yard performances and brought the Patriots to the playoffs after they had missed a playoff berth the year before. Without the strong offensive system McDaniels had in place, there’s no guarantee Jones would have enjoyed that same level of success.
That’s why this coming year will present some big challenges for Jones and the Patriots offense as a whole. McDaniels is gone, and coming in to replace him is… no one? That’s right, New England doesn’t even have an offensive coordinator on their coaching staff. Matt Patricia, formerly the Patriots’ defensive coordinator is currently their “Senior Football Advisor” and will be calling plays for the offense. Alongside him is former Patriots special teams coordinator and former New York Giants head coach Joe Judge, who has been named their “Offensive Assistant.”
So if losing their offensive coordinator with a young quarterback wasn’t enough, they also have replaced him with two guys that have no experience running an offense.
We’ll get our first look at what that will look like on Thursday night when the Patriots take on the Giants in each team’s first preseason game. When the game begins, it’ll be our first chance to zero in on a couple of things: how Jones’ progressions and performance look without McDaniels and how the offensive line plays. Reports so far out of training camp have pointed to a lack of good protection up front as one of the biggest issues for the Patriots’ offense so far, often allowing free rushers to get to the quarterback.
Head coach Bill Belichick has said he worked to streamline the offense to help make it simpler, but the changes have so far not gone over well. Jones has admitted frustration and difficulty with mastering the new system and communicating with his offense while also admitting he needs to get better at getting the ball out sooner.
Seeing how that all plays out on Thursday night could be very telling of how this season will go for the Patriots offense. Jones will get a first chance at working out some of the kinks in a game situation in his first preseason game of the year. He’ll have to improve at working through his progressions quicker to get rid of the ball faster, especially if the offensive line continues to struggle in front of him. That’s no small task, especially without a talented offensive coordinator like McDaniels. But if he’s able to at least show progress in a preseason game, it would speak volumes to Jones’ skills as a quarterback and would provide promise to the Patriots’ outlook on the coming regular season.
For the offensive line, the goal for this preseason game is simple: keep Jones upright and work through the kinks of their own. The Patriots have a very solid O-line, so it seems clear their struggles are most likely a result of the new offensive scheme more than anything. Still, if they are unable to at least show some improvement once game situations begin, it could be an especially long year for Jones and New England’s offense.