PITTSBURGH — The New England Patriots introduced several new wrinkles into their offense this summer. Just two games into the regular season, some of those already have been expunged from the playbook.
Speaking after Sunday’s 17-14 win over the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium, wide receiver Kendrick Bourne said the Patriots have “scrapped” elements of their offense that weren’t working the way they had hoped.
“There’s plenty of things we’ve scrapped,” Bourne said. “Knowing what we do well and (the coaches) knowing us and just playing to our strengths, we’re learning that well. And (on Sunday), you could just see that. We were flowing really well, so it felt good.”
Bourne didn’t share specifics about what the Patriots have abandoned, but some concepts they emphasized during training camp and the preseason have been largely absent from their two regular-season game plans.
One is the outside-zone running game. New England’s offense repped that again and again during the summer — and found little success — but called few outside-zone plays in its loss to the Miami Dolphins and win over Pittsburgh. We also haven’t seen the play-action bootleg/rollout offshoots that the Patriots tried out early in camp.
On their final drive Sunday — a 13-play march that drained the final 6:33 off the game clock — the Patriots went back to the power running style they favored in previous seasons, pulling Cole Strange, Mike Onwenu and David Andrews to clear holes for Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson.
“I feel like I kind of expected it, you know,” wide receiver Jakobi Meyers said when asked about Bourne’s comment. “It was just a matter of time of showing it. I feel like we just hadn’t gotten to the point where we were showing what we could be, and I feel like definitely flashed. We’ve still got a lot to learn from, though, so there’s still room to grow. It’s exciting, but we know that we can do better, so I’m hopeful.”
The Patriots tailor their game plan to each opponent, so their offensive strategy is likely to shift on a week-to-week basis. They’ve already taken two substantially different approaches, emphasizing two-tight end sets with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith against Miami and then playing almost the entire Pittsburgh game with three receivers on the field. That shift led to much larger roles for Bourne, who played 22 more snaps Sunday than he did in Week 1, and fellow depth wideout Lil’Jordan Humphrey. Henry and Smith finished without a catch on four total targets.
What changes might we see in the weeks to come? An uptick in play-action passes is one possibility. The Patriots have run just seven of those through two games, which head coach Bill Belichick attributed to the Dolphins’ and Steelers’ high blitz rates.
Sunday’s victory offered some reasons for optimism for New England’s offense, which Bourne and Meyers both believe will continue to improve as the season progresses.
“We’re not even close, I think, to where we could be, and that’s the biggest thing with us,” Bourne said. “There’s so much we can do. The coaches are doing a good job of just keeping growing each week. They’re learning us as we go, and it feels good.”