Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Two weeks into Patriots training camp, discussion of the team’s offense has become the dominant storyline.
Despite several high-profile offseason departures on defense, and a special teams unit looking to rebound after performing poorly in 2021, it’s the offense that’s drawn both local and national attention.
Josh McDaniels departur to become head coach of the Raiders meant the Patriots had to replace the team’s longtime offensive coordinator. In response, Bill Belichick named Joe Judge and Matt Patricia — two former Patriots assistant coaches, both of whom also have head coaching experience — into prominent roles on the offensive staff.
The issue with this, as has been repeatedly pointed out, is that neither has past experience calling plays on offense. Given the importance of also continuing to develop second-year quarterback Mac Jones, the reasons for the increased scrutiny on the offense are clear.
It’s still early in training camp, and preseason games haven’t even begun yet (the Patriots kick off against the Giants on Thursday), but after having had a sustained look at the team’s offensive play so far, it’s apparent that experts are far from convinced.
The nadir appeared to come on Monday (Aug. 8), when Jones and the offense were unable to string anything together in 11-on-11 drills.
“There were miscommunications and frustration, with several players throwing their hands in the air and shaking their head after plays,” noted The Boston Globe Patriots reporter Jim McBride. Even beyond Jones and the Patriots’ first team offense, the defense dominated. Each of the team’s quarterbacks was intercepted, including the final play (when defensive back Joshuah Bledsoe picked off Brian Hoyer’s goal-line pass attempt).
“It felt like every single completion today was a chore for the Patriots offense,” noted NBC Sports Boston’s Phil Perry in a post-practice video. Perry’s colleague, Tom E. Curran, tweeted a blunt metaphor referencing the Patriots’ decision to use coaches with no experience coaching offense.
ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss gave his own overview following Monday’s practice.
“It was below the standard, quite frankly, of the way the Patriots have played offense in the past,” Reiss said, referencing the decision by offensive lineman David Andrews to hold an offense-only huddle in an attempt to regroup.
One suggestion Reiss made was to bring back former offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia to help assess needs.
Scarnecchia, who retired in 2020, recently spoke about the team’s new scheme in an interview with Boston Herald reporter Karen Guregian.
“I would say this, in fairness to everyone, I just think this is the wrong time to evaluate it,” Scarnecchia told Guregian. “The pads have come on, but they’re not playing real football yet. Whenever they play the Giants, we’ll have a better idea where this thing is. Even at that point, it’s not totally fair to say they can’t [do it].”
And Scarnecchia’s message — stressing a patient approach to any evaluation — has been echoed by another person with experience in New England: Rob Ninkovich, now an ESPN analyst after retiring from the Patriots in 2017.
Though he expressed concern over reports of the offensive line struggling — “you have a young quarterback, they have to establish the run” — Ninkovich took the long view.
“I have faith that with the Patriots, you always talk about that snowball,” he explained on ESPN’s “Get Up!” Tuesday morning. “You start small, as it rolls down the hill, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. Usually, in September, you’re trying to figure out your roster, you’re looking at guys from other teams that are cut, you’re trying to build your roster out.
“Then you hope that in November, you’re starting to roll into being in the hunt for the division, then you get into the playoffs, and then you’re playing your best football,” Ninkovich concluded. “I’m not panicking right now, but I just think that the offensive line issues, they kind of concern me.”
Jason McCourty, who like Ninkovich is a former Patriots defensive player-turned-television analyst, took a different line.
During a Monday segment for “Good Morning Football” on NFL Network, McCourty rated his former team’s struggles as a “big deal.”
“There’s not a ton of offensive coaches,” McCourty said, scanning the list of New England’s current offensive coaching staff. As he pointed out, McDaniels wasn’t the only departure after 2021 (with experienced running backs coach Ivan Fears retiring and being replaced by Vinnie Sunseri, a former safety).
While McCourty fully acknowledged that Belichick could figure it out and the offense may end up clicking, he remained skeptical of the level of uncertainty.
And as Ninkovich and McCourty’s segments prove, national coverage has begun to focus on the Patriots’ offensive issues.
Mike Giardi, who is a Patriots reporter for NFL Network, has observed Jones having a tougher time in training camp in 2022 than he did as a rookie in 2021 (though statistics dispute this to some extent).
Giardi added that the problems he’s seen are not “all on Mac,” referencing New England’s equal issues with both blocking and route-running.
Yet as NFL reporter Diana Russini made clear in a Wednesday segment on ESPN, the swirling questions around the Patriots’ offense aren’t going away anytime soon.
“I don’t even understand what offense they’re trying to put together right now,” Russini said. “It’s all a little confusing.”
Stay up to date on all the latest news from Boston.com
Stay up to date with everything Boston. Receive the latest news and breaking updates, straight from our newsroom to your inbox.