Damien Harris Not Sugarcoating Patriots’ Offensive Struggles

'I feel like we know that we're not where we're going to be'

by

September 16

FOXBORO, Mass. — After Thursday’s Patriots practice, Damien Harris was asked how confident New England’s offense feels heading into Sunday’s Week 2 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The running back paused for four seconds, considering his answer, and then gave a telling response.

“Um,” Harris said. “I feel like we know that we’re not where we’re going to be. And I think the confidence is that we’re going to get there at some point.”

Harris acknowledged what’s been obvious to observers since the start of training camp: The Patriots’ offense has yet to click in the post-Josh McDaniels era. Their first-team O sputtered throughout the summer as the team introduced a new coaching setup and scheme changes aimed at “streamlining” the offense and allowing players to play “faster.” And while Week 1 offered improvements in some areas, New England still mustered just one scoring drive and turned the ball over three times in an ugly 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

The preseason and regular season aren’t especially comparable, but across two exhibition appearances and last Sunday’s season opener, the Patriots’ top offense has run 15 total drives and produced points on just three of them (two touchdowns, one field goal). They were one of just four teams not to crack double digits on the NFL’s opening weekend.

The Patriots also didn’t feature some of the more prominent offensive alterations we saw this summer, largely scrapping the outside-zone running game and its play-action passing offshoots against the Dolphins. Whether head coach Bill Belichick plans to introduce those elements in future weeks or ditched them because they were ineffective during the preseason remains to be seen.

New England’s offense was no juggernaut last season, but it ranked fifth in points per game, ninth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and 10th in expected points added per play under the direction of rookie quarterback Mac Jones. Its ground game — led by Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson — was especially effective, ranking eighth in yards per game and seventh in both DVOA and EPA/play.

Harris ran well in Week 1 (nine carries, 48 yards) and Stevenson had some positive moments, as well, but the Patriots averaged just 3.6 yards per carry against Miami’s aggressive defense, ranking 23rd in that stat and 22nd in EPA/rush. Seven of their 22 running plays were stopped for no gain or lost yardage, not including a Jones kneeldown.

Like many of his teammates, Harris did preach patience, saying the Patriots’ offense eventually will jell. That unit will face a stiff test this Sunday against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that forced five turnovers and sacked Joe Burrow seven times in a season-opening win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

“It’s a work in progress, and it’s a long season,” Harris said. “We’re going into Week 2. I don’t think anybody or any team is where they’re going to be at the end of the year, so we just have to continue to have confidence in one another, coaches and players have confidence in each other and just continue to go out there and prove. We know that we’re going to get to where we want to be.”

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