3 big things the Patriots need in an offensive coordinator with Josh McDaniels gone

The Patriots have to figure out how to keep things steady for Mac Jones as McDaniels, the designer of the offense and his quarterback coach, appears to leave for the Las Vegas Raiders.

Mac Jones Patriots
Quarterback Mac Jones and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels before their Week 16 game against the Buffalo Bills. (Stan Grossfeld/Globe Staff)
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At this point, the only thing left between the Patriots needing a new offensive coordinator is Josh McDaniels dotting his “i”s and crossing his “t”s with the Las Vegas Raiders.

With multiple reports expecting McDaniels to take the Raiders’ head-coaching job, New England likely has to replace its longtime play-caller and quarterbacks coach, who has spent 14 seasons in that role with the Patriots over two different stints.

That means, despite outperforming his peers and making the playoffs, Pats quarterback Mac Jones might still have to learn another offense, or at least learn under someone new, in Year 2 just as Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Davis Mills will.


The difference, of course, is that Bill Belichick isn’t going anywhere, and he likely has a clear idea of what he’d want in a replacement for McDaniels.

One would hope so, anyway, because getting this next offensive coordinator correct will be immensely important not just for Jones but for the entire unit. Here are few of the most necessary things this hire must get right for the Patriots.

Continuity for Mac Jones

Even those who didn’t love McDaniels as a play-caller have to understand the significance of losing him.

As Jones enters his second NFL season, he’ll now need to learn how to work with a new play-caller and (potentially) new concepts and terminologies. This could potentially be his third offensive coach and system in three seasons. That can be tough for a young quarterback.

On top of that, McDaniels wasn’t just the guy who called plays on offense: he was Jones’s quarterback coach, too. Jones followed McDaniels everywhere during spring practice and training camp, constantly picking the coach’s brain to get up to speed as quickly as possible. When the rookie would come off the field, McDaniels is who he’d spend the most time with on the sidelines.

The most important thing the Patriots can do is bring in someone who knows the system or one close to it in order to keep Jones as comfortable as possible going into an important Year 2.


From that standpoint, Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien likely has a strong edge if he wants the job. He’s been New England’s offensive coordinator before and had a big hand in shaping the offense when McDaniels left for his first head-coaching opportunity with Denver.

But it’s also important to find an offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach that can connect with Jones intellectually as the young passer continues to learn how to play NFL football. After all, the mental part of Jones’s game, not his physical attributes, will ultimately determine how much he grows going forward.

Getting Jonnu Smith involved

Whatever you thought of Nelson Agholor’s final numbers, the free-agent receiver did, in fact, have a very positive effect on New England’s offensive production even when he wasn’t getting the football. His speed alone threatened opposing defenses, opening things up for Jakobi Meyers and Kendrick Bourne to each top 800 yards receiving.

But when it comes to Smith, one of the Patriots’ high-priced additions at tight end, there’s very little silver lining. According to Pro Football Focus, he was even the worst run-blocker and fourth-worst pass-blocker among qualified tight ends.

For whatever reason, though, New England insisted on using him overwhelmingly as a blocker rather than trying to get him the football. He ran the fewest routes of any qualified tight end, according to PFF, and was used as a blocker at a 25 percent higher clip than Hunter Henry.


Some of the issues between them can be chalked up to Smith simply needing to develop more comfort with Jones at quarterback. But a new offensive coordinator needs to find a way to get him more involved as a pass-catcher and use his elite athletic ability as a mismatch creator.

Again, O’Brien would seem to be a great candidate to unlock Smith. It was O’Brien, in fact, who created the two-tight end offense built around the explosiveness and versatility of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the early 2010s.

If you want another guy who knows how to use tight ends creatively, Kansas City Chiefs passing game/coordinator quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka might have some ideas, too. He’s been there for Travis Kelce’s explosion into arguably the NFL’s best tight end.

Adjusting to other teams’ adjustments

One of the biggest questions for any play-caller is: “What do you do when the other team adjusts to what you’re doing?” The Patriots weren’t able to consistently answer that question offensively late in the 2021 season as opponents started to tighten the screws on Jones and the passing game.

Sure, some of that is related to personnel limitations.

Jones simply doesn’t have a great arm right now and almost certainly will never have an elite one. Teams dared him to try and beat them down the field after the bye week, and he couldn’t do it. Furthermore, New England’s group of pass-catchers just doesn’t scare anyone. Not having an elite pass-catching back like James White as a security blanket out of the backfield hurt, too.

But the Patriots also took too long to punish teams for overplaying the middle of the field and scheme up high-percentage throws outside the numbers for Jones. They also had one of the lowest pass percentages on early downs in the NFL and threw the ball at below-average clips on both 2nd- and 3rd-and-short, according to, which made them far more predictable on offense than they ought to have been.


Plus, the Patriots simply threw their two-tight end offense off a cliff instead of utilizing both Henry and Smith as pass-catchers, voluntarily removing one of the team’s most interesting alignments from the equation.

As well as Jones played during his rookie season, the playbook didn’t appear fully open for him. The Patriots have to let him cook a bit more in Year 2 and beyond to keep the ball moving effectively. Part of that falls on Belichick as well, but New England also needs an offensive coordinator willing to bet on Jones making the right play in those key situations.


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