You will not be surprised to hear the New England Patriots' offense struggled behind closed doors as much as it did on the field.
After a rough 8-9 season that ended with the Patriots hiring an actual offensive coordinator in Bill O'Brien, the Boston Herald published a story Thursday laying bare the team's struggle to field a competent offense.
The basics of a story worth reading in its entirety include a testy relationship between quarterback Mac Jones and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge, an offensive coaching staff using concepts it didn't quite understand and people wondering if head coach Bill Belichick realized how hard it would be to replace Josh McDaniels, who left his offensive coordinator post last offseason to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders.
The future of Judge and offensive line coach Matt Patricia, the two coaches tasked with running the offense and calling plays, reportedly remains up in the air under O'Brien, as the two are not part of the Patriots' contingent of coaches at the East-West Shrine Bowl.
Given how much of the Patriots' future rests on Jones becoming a quality NFL quarterback, Judge's future may be particularly questionable. Jones made it clear he was unhappy with the team's offensive play-calling this season, and the Herald reports he was not a fan of his position coach:
As Patricia came under outside fire as the face of the offense, Judge drew increasing criticism from within. Belichick would blast him in practice, and it wasn’t uncommon for Judge and Jones to trade profanity-laced outbursts. Jones’ trust in his position coach was effectively non-existent.
“Mac didn’t like him,” one source said. “At all.”
“[Judge] would speak extra loudly in meetings, trying to project like he was the guy,” another source said. “And I think that kind of rubbed people the wrong way.”
“A lot of people were frustrated with [Judge],” a third added.
The Patriots' offensive plan this season was to reportedly take McDaniels' concepts, throw in some Sean McVay ideas (play-action passes in particular) and simplify the game plan overall for quicker execution.
On paper, that sounds reasonable. Unfortunately, the Patriots had a rather significant handicap in that no one on their coaching staff had any experience with a Shanahan-style system, where McVay's philosophy originates. Their run plays clashed with their pass plays, and their pass protection dealt with major communication issues.
The offensive experience of the Patriots' coaching staff was already a concern, as Judge entered this season with zero past experience on the offensive side of the ball as a position coach, and Patricia had only worked as an assistant offensive line coach in 2005.
Apparently, this led to issues with the players who actually had experience under a Shanahan offense:
The staff’s lack of understanding became a frequent source of frustration in meetings, when players with experience in Shanahan systems, of which there were at least a half-dozen, would raise questions about how to solve defenses they had faced with other teams.
“A lot of guys would ask, ‘Well, what’s going to happen if [the defense] does this?’ And you would see they hadn’t really accounted for that yet,” one source said. “And they’d say, ‘We’ll get to that when we get to that.’ That type of attitude got us in trouble.”
The good news for the Patriots is O'Brien has experience on offense and reportedly has Jones' stamp of approval. There are still plenty of issues to fix, though, as 2022 was a step back for Jones whether his coaching staff was incompetent or not.