Patriots excited to get answers, 'no BS' leadership style from Bill O'Brien
Perry: Pats excited to get answers, 'no BS' leadership style from O'Brien originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Training camp was one thing. It was early. The Patriots were ironing things out. They wanted to see how their new offense looked. Results weren't the priority.
But just four plays into the first game of the 2022 season, it looked like something was wrong with Bill Belichick's offense.
Late in the play clock -- 12 seconds left in a second-and-7 situation -- Mac Jones surveyed the Miami Dolphins defense as several players crept toward the line of scrimmage. He adjusted the alignment of his running back. His center David Andrews turned and waited for a signal.
Nine seconds left.
Jones then frantically waved his hands over his head and motioned receiver DeVante Parker across the formation. Jones re-aligned tight end Jonnu Smith and shot him a hurried hand signal.
Five seconds left.
From there, Jones quickly pointed out something in Miami's defense to Andrews. The second-year quarterback then whipped his head to the right and flashed another rushed hand signal to Parker and Jakobi Meyers.
One second left.
Jones got the snap off in time, hit his check-down, and picked up a first down. But it shouldn't have looked that way, like he was conducting a symphony orchestra, folks familiar with the Patriots offensive operation will tell you.
Jones having more freedom at the line of scrimmage to make adjustments was viewed as a positive by some headed into the start of the regular season. But that level of adjusting was something different. That was a pre-snap scramble.
Patriots Talk: Devin McCourty goes deep on Patriots’ hire of Bill O’Brien | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
On Thursday, the Boston Herald detailed Patriots reactions to a number of issues on the offensive side of the ball through last season. Members of the team don't have to do much digging through the recesses of their memories to recall when cracks in the foundation became apparent.
There were those on the roster, I'm told, who felt just a few weeks into camp that the offensive changes that had been implemented weren't going to work. How the season-opener played out only fueled their concerns.
The Dolphins under then-defensive coordinator Josh Boyer were known for their all-out pressure packages. But at the sight of one such blitz within the first two minutes of the game, on a steamy afternoon in South Florida, the Patriots looked frazzled.
The day ended with the Patriots taking a 20-7 loss -- with a game-changing scoop-and-score strip-sack allowed by New England when it inadvertently cut a Dolphins rusher free into the backfield -- and Jones limping toward the visitor's locker room with a back injury. Jones absorbed a particularly hard shot late in the game when, oddly, receiver Nelson Agholor was involved in the pass-protection plan. The Patriots were forced to later make an announcement that their quarterback wasn't healthy enough to meet with reporters for his usual postgame press conference.
In the aftermath of that opening defeat, it was clear to those close to the situation that Matt Patricia had been spread thin. He maintained his title as offensive line coach. He maintained his duties as play-caller and de facto offensive coordinator. But at that point it was Billy Yates, the assistant offensive line coach, who essentially took over the lead role with that position group. After spending the first halves of games at the press-box level with other coaches, Yates was on the sidelines for Week 2 and beyond.
That one change didn't solve the greater issue, though, that the Patriots were without answers offensively when posed with certain problems by their opponents.
Next Pats Podcast: Rich Ohrnberger on experience playing under Bill O’Brien
From the Herald:
“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.”Eventually, the staff’s approach ran counter to the reason they had pivoted (to simplify the offense) in the first place.“By the end, they were just making 1,000 adjustments instead of building them in at the beginning,” one source said.
The fourth play of the season -- with Jones engaged in some rapid-fire signaling as the play-clock wound down -- served as a brief bit of evidence that sufficient answers hadn't been baked into that week's gameplan.
Alerts, route adjustments, protection plans -- when those things are covered thoroughly and installed properly during the week, panicked hand-signals late in the play clock typically aren't necessary. For the remainder of the season, the Patriots searched for the right answers offensively. The planning process felt "disorganized" and led to feelings of helplessness on that side of the ball from week to week, said one member of the organization. "Some days you'd sit there and say to yourself, 'What are we doing?' "
It should come as little surprise then that the arrival of new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has been met with excitement at One Patriot Place. He's viewed by those inside the building as a "no BS" kind of coach and "a step in the right direction" for the team.
"I am looking forward to working with Bill again," Belichick said in the statement. "He is an outstanding coach and an asset to our staff."
Incorporating someone with O'Brien's experience level doesn't guarantee the Patriots a playoff appearance. It doesn't mean they will suddenly match the offensive output of their division rivals in Miami and Buffalo.
But O'Brien's hire is in some ways an admission by Belichick that last year's offensive plan was a mistake (even if it was nudged along by ownership's desire to import a qualified offensive coordinator). And it should go a long way in providing the offense the real-time answers it needs to compete on a regular basis, rectifying one of last season's most glaring issues.