Patriots Offense’s Matt Patricia Experiment Predictably Has Failed

The Patriots have gone from a top-10 offense to one of the NFL's worst


December 2, 2022

FOXBORO, Mass. — Bill Belichick’s decision to install Matt Patricia and Joe Judge as the leaders of the Patriots’ new-look offensive staff was met with widespread skepticism. Mockery, even.

New England had a seemingly ascending young quarterback in Mac Jones and an offense that, despite its flaws, was one of the most efficient and highest-scoring in the NFL last season. Why was Belichick handing the keys to that unit to two coaches who had zero experience in the roles they’d be filling?

Patricia, a Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator, was tapped to call offensive plays. Judge, whose specialty is special teams, would coach QBs, putting him directly in charge of Jones’ development. Belichick, as he stressed multiple times during the spring and summer, would have final say over everything and should be the one blamed if this unorthodox setup did not work out.

Well, it hasn’t.

We’re now 13 weeks into the NFL season, and the Patriots’ offense has yet to pull out of its post-Josh McDaniels tailspin. After struggling mightily during training camp, they’ve regressed in nearly every offensive category with Patricia at the controls, including freefalls from sixth to 20th in points per game, tied for ninth to 29th in first downs per game, 10th to 27th in third-down offense, 11th to tied for 31st in red-zone offense and 10th to 26th in expected points added per play.

New England entered Week 13 ranked 25th in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA — down from ninth in 2021 — and is sure to drop lower after scoring just one touchdown and going 3-for-12 on third down in a thoroughly one-sided 24-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

“Same story every week,” tight end Hunter Henry said after the game. “It’s not good enough across the board.”

Since Week 7, the Patriots are 30th in EPA/play, ahead of only the Indianapolis Colts — who’ve benched two quarterbacks and fired both their head coach and their offensive coordinator — and the Houston Texans, the worst team in the NFL.

This regression also can be seen individually. Running back Rhamondre Stevenson is enjoying an excellent season. Wide receiver Jakobi Meyers has been terrific, too, as he prepares to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time. But nearly every other Patriots offensive skill player is having one of the worst statistical years of his career.

That includes Jones, who, rather than taking the Year 2 leap many were expecting after he piloted the Patriots to the 2021 playoffs and made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, has declined amid suspect offensive line play and simplistic, predictable play-calling.

QB Mac Jones
— Passer rating down from 92.5 to 87.0
— QBR down from 50.9 to 35.8
— Touchdown rate down from 4.2% to 2.6%
— EPA/play down from 14th in the NFL to 22nd
— Pro Football Focus grade down from 12th to 34th

WR Kendrick Bourne
— Lowest yards per game of his career
— Fewest receptions per game since his rookie year
— Both way down from last season (47.1 yards per game to 20.5)
— No touchdowns

WR Nelson Agholor
— Lowest yards per game since 2016
— Fewest receptions per game since his rookie year

WR DeVante Parker
— Third-lowest yards per game of his career (lowest since 2018)
— Fewest receptions per game since his rookie year

TE Hunter Henry
— Lowest yards per game and receptions per game of his career

TE Jonnu Smith
— Lowest yards per game since his rookie year
— No touchdowns

Jones, Bourne, Agholor, Henry and Smith were with the Patriots last season. Their most notable offseason additions were Parker, who came over from Miami via trade, and second-round draft pick Tyquan Thornton.

Thornton missed the first four games with a broken collarbone and has not developed since his return, averaging 1.5 catches and 14.6 yards per game over eight appearances. His yards-per-game average, 50% catch rate and 0.56 yards-per-route-run mark all rank last among rookie wideouts with at least 20 targets.

The O-line, meanwhile, has been inconsistent at best and downright horrific at worst. Some of those problems have been injury-related — the Patriots played this week’s game with fourth-stringer Conor McDermott at one tackle spot and a visibly sick Trent Brown at the other — but Isaiah Wynn was a mess in his move to right tackle, and first-round left guard Cole Strange has been benched twice. Patricia coaches the Patriots’ O-line in addition to his play-calling duties, with Billy Yates assisting him.

“We’ve got to get the ball downfield, so I think Mac needs more time,” Bourne said. “He’s obviously running around. It’s hard to get the ball downfield when you can’t really have time for him to throw. No knock to the line, it’s just what we need to work on. The receivers can’t do nothing if the ball can’t get downfield, and if we can’t throw it past 5 yards, it’s going to be a long game.”

Poor on-field execution has been an issue for this entire offensive unit, certainly. But Patricia, Judge and the rest of the Patriots’ offensive brain trust have not done nearly enough to maximize the talent they have on their roster. That roster is not loaded with elite players — the Patriots don’t have anyone approaching the level of a Josh Allen or Stefon Diggs — but it’s largely the same group that McDaniels was coaching last season, yet the results have been demonstrably worse.

The 6-6 Patriots also have been prone to poorly timed penalties — four of their five O-line starters were flagged for holding against Buffalo — and game-planning/play-calling decisions that even players are beginning to openly question, as Jones and Bourne both did Thursday night.

Belichick said Friday morning that there’s no “magic wand” he can wave to fix his team’s offensive issues. But with 10 days off before their Monday night matchup with the Arizona Cardinals and a playoff berth still within reach, he should seriously consider punting on the Patricia experiment and restructuring his staff.

Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images
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