An optimist might use the term “unique” to describe the current configuration of how Matt Patricia juggles communicating with Mac Jones and talking to Patriots offensive linemen between series. A pessimist — or a realist, depending on your perspective — might call it “unsustainable.”
We got our first look at it during New England’s preseason opener against the New York Giants. After Patricia called plays for the offense, he would speak with the quarterback (in that game it was Brian Hoyer) and/or confer with Bill Belichick and Joe Judge. After a couple of minutes, Patricia, also listed as an offensive line coach, would make his way over to the linemen and go over adjustments. The order of those events occasionally changed, as did the participants. Additionally, assistant O-line coach Billy Yates would communicate from up in the booth before appearing on the sideline after halftime. That logistical setup more or less stayed the same for the rest of the preseason.
And it remained unchanged in Sunday’s season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins. Patricia, who hours before kickoff finally was revealed as Josh McDaniels’ successor, called plays during the Patriots’ offensive drives and, in between series, accomplished some combination of conferring with Jones, meeting with Belichick/Judge and communicating with linemen. Yates again stayed up in the booth.
You can judge for yourself whether the play-calling and generally bland offense are to blame for how New England looked on Sunday (Dan Orlovsky certainly has made up his mind). But the specific order of operations on the sideline, while absolutely related, is worth addressing as a separate point.
Mac Jones was asked for his thoughts on the issue during a Monday afternoon Zoom call.
“It was good,” Jones said. “I think the communication on the sideline was really good between all of us, and we’ll continue to grow in that area. Same with the operation. It’ll get faster. I really like our coaching staff. I think they’ve done a good job just staying positive.”
Jones, who also said he expects to be fine after suffering a back injury, then was asked if he feels he has enough time with Patricia between series to go over everything that must be addressed.
“Yes,” Jones said. “Yeah, I do.”
Patricia on Tuesday was asked for insight into how he balances all of his many responsibilities with the Patriots. He gave a long answer, talking mostly about headsets.
“The headsets are pretty cool. There’s a lot of people on the headsets,” Patricia said. “You have guys up (in the booth) that have different responsibilities and they’re giving you information down below. Obviously, the coaches on the field that are talking to position groups, you don’t necessarily have to be standing right next to somebody in order to be communicating with them, which is a great part of it. We have different lines on our headsets, so we can switch to different channels and talk to isolated groups if we need to get direct communication back and forth, whatever that may be from what we’re seeing in a game. I think all that stuff is something we always try to improve on. We’re always trying to get better. Certainly, every game that we’ve had, starting with the preseason to the regular season, there’s been different things that we’ve been able to learn to try and communicate better as we go. And with Joe over there, obviously working with Mac and Hoyer directly on the bench, I’m just clicked on with them and we’re talking back and forth as I’m working through with the offensive line, you know, Billy Yates upstairs. And obviously, the other coaches on those lines, too.
“It’s really just, like, a big conversation all happening at the same time. And we have an order, a sequence that we go through with that communication so that we’re all getting the communication that we need out of the plays from a particular series that we just got done with. So, just continuing to try and streamline that info. It’s great. If there’s something that I need, obviously I just walk down and we can have different conversations from that standpoint, too. If it’s something maybe that I saw in a picture that I want to show or go down there, it’s pretty neat with all the technology and how we can communicate without being necessarily right in the same spot.”
For now, the setup appears to be working. Again, that doesn’t mean the Patriots offense actually is any good.
But how will the system hold up should certain situations arise?
Consider this: New England’s offensive line gets smoked on a series and the Patriots are forced to punt. Patricia has points to address with the linemen, but first speaks to Jones and briefly has a word with Belichick. During that time, the other team turns the ball over, giving the Patriots a golden opportunity. However, the offensive line must retake the field despite receiving zero coaching from its primary coach. Jones then goes out and gets hammered again because the linemen still are lost.
That’s just one realistic scenario that could crop up. And there are many more.
The Patriots shouldn’t be ripped for something they’ve yet to actually screw up. But if poor sideline communication costs them a play, a series or even a game down the road, criticism will be warranted — regardless of how good the headsets are.