How Much Does Matt Patricia’s Defensive Experience Really Help Patriots Offense?

'It's different from anything I've ever had, honestly'

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September 16

FOXBORO, Mass. — The jury very much is out on whether Matt Patricia can be an effective offensive play-caller for the New England Patriots. It wasn’t a great start in Miami against the Dolphins, with the Patriots running a rudimentary offense that didn’t seem to make the best use out of the talent and skill sets on the field.

However, if Patricia is going to succeed in his new role, it partly will be due to his experience on the other side of the ball. At least, that’s what Bill Belichick and Mac Jones have tried to sell us since the first days of training camp.

Patricia actually worked on offense before rising to fame in the 2010s as New England’s pencil-rocking, rocket-scientist defensive coordinator. He worked as an offensive graduate assistant for Syracuse from 2001 to 2003 and spent the next two years as an offensive assistant for the Patriots, including in 2005 as an assistant offensive line coach. Patricia moved to defense in 2006 and stayed there until 2018 when he was hired as head coach of the Detroit Lions. He was fired midway through the 2020 season and, two months later, re-joined New England in a mysterious advisor role. Now, he’s the primary offensive line coach and the successor to Josh McDaniels as the Patriots’ top offensive play-caller — despite not officially having the title.

So, how much does Patricia’s experience on defense really help the offense? Does it really make a difference for the players?

“For me, personally, just hearing him talk about (defense), it allows me to kind of see what defensive guys are thinking,” receiver Jakobi Meyers told NESN.com on Thursday. “Just why they would do this — not just what they’re doing, but why they would do it and, like, how I could possibly beat it if I know why they’re doing it. So, I think his defensive perspective is a great help.

“It’s different from anything I’ve ever had, honestly, because I’ve never had a defensive coach coaching me. So, having him now, it’s like an extra step of preparation.”

Patricia is a busy guy on gameday — too busy, you could argue. Between series, he somehow juggles conferring with Jones, going over adjustments with the offensive line and meeting with Bill Belichick and/or quarterbacks coach Joe Judge. Patricia and Jones maintain the awkward setup hasn’t negatively impacted sideline communication.

But it’s fair to wonder whether running around so much makes it difficult for Patrica to truly tap into his vast reservoir of defensive knowledge during a game. Does the experience actually translate in real-time while he’s calling plays, or is it more relevant while preparing for gameday?

It still is a combination of both, according to Patricia.

“I think, certainly, as you’re going into the preparation of a gameday, you’re looking at tape,” he said Tuesday. “You have a lot of time to kind of digest the information and maybe look at the nuances of the particular scheme that you’re getting ready to face. Within the game, there might be certain things that I can recognize just from my experience on that side of the ball and see it and be able to try and get it explained in between the series. The pictures are great for us, too, when we come to the sideline to be able to see those situations.

“But I think all the coaches do a really good job of making sure that we understand what our opponent does, and things that they’re gonna try to do against us, and making sure that when those come up on the field that we identify them and communicate it to everybody right away. I think, just in general, the longer you’ve been around the game or at the game at this level, there’ll be things that tend to repeat. You know, the game is a bit of a copycat league at times, and there’s things that’ll come up that you’ve seen before that you may recognize from a previous game or a previous year.”

There’s no denying that Patricia knows a ton about football and is a student and diehard fan of the game. He and Belichick wouldn’t be attached at the hip if that weren’t the case.

The 48-year-old sometimes is an easy target for fans, with his pencils, shaggy appearance and ATV exploits. And if Patricia fails as an offensive coordinator, he, Belichick and the Patriots will be rightfully ripped for assuming being a defensive play-caller could adequately prepare someone for calling offensive plays in the NFL.

But Patricia sure thinks the transition makes sense, and players publicly and privately say his defensive know-how makes a difference. They all will get another chance to prove it this Sunday when the Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Thumbnail photo via Eric Canha/USA TODAY Sports Images
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