Patriots Mailbag: Does Matt Patricia have too much on his plate?

·11 min read

Perry's Mailbag: Does Matt Patricia have too much on his plate? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The New England Patriots will look to bounce back from Sunday's discouraging loss with a Week 2 win in Pittsburgh. Before they pay a visit to the Steelers, we have your mailbag questions to answer.

Let's get to it...

I'm not sure I'd anticipate drastic changes in the near future here. Bill Belichick has told us already that he believes there is some merit in approaching September as an extension of the preseason. He's told us we might not know until October what kind of team the Patriots really are. I think he's going to give Matt Patricia an opportunity to settle into his new roles on the coaching staff.

But I'd also anticipate adjustments to the plan. That's the word I've heard thrown around consistently in conversations I've had over the last few days. "Adjustments." They're coming. The adjustments mid-game against the Dolphins weren't satisfactory.

There were some -- for example, getting Kendrick Bourne on the field more often -- that were obvious second-guesses soon after the opener was through. And, yes, Patricia is partly responsible for those.

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But he also has a lot on his plate in-game and so maybe it's expecting too much to expect him to be on top of his adjustments the way a more experienced coordinator would.

Just consider his responsibilities between series. Patricia, as offensive line coach, has to get his group together to get them prepped for adjustments to certain blitzes coming their way. How will they handle those depending on the protection call? Then, as play-caller, he has to prepare Mac Jones for what's coming during the next series. Both are important. Both take time.

Patricia said on Tuesday that he can be in on a conversation without being physically present for it on the sidelines. He can, he explained, be with his linemen while "clicked" into a quarterback discussion thanks to his headset and the headsets worn by other coaches.

But there are limitations to that setup. Can Patricia be fully invested in the line discussion while also understanding what's being shared between Jones and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge? Can he alert Jones to what he's thinking as a play-caller through Judge, while also keeping his offensive line responsibilities in order? Jones isn't wearing a headset. Judge is. Is it possible that game-of-telephone situation leads to miscommunication?

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Patricia said he could also walk over to Jones to get something ironed out with him face-to-face if he had to -- and he did at times on Sunday -- but does he have enough time thanks to his other responsibilities?

Patricia could lean more on assistant line coach Billy Yates at times, but in Week 1 (and during the preseason), Yates was at the press-box level during the first half before going down to field level for the second half. The way things were set up in Miami, outside of perhaps captain David Andrews, there's not a lot in the way of contingent plans for in-person offensive line coaching if Patricia wants to chat with Jones directly.

Bill Belichick said Wednesday that he liked the setup with Yates and that they'll likely continue with it for now.

He did allow for the possibility that something changes with the coaching operation -- as it may on the personnel and schematic fronts -- down the line. But this seems to be an is-what-it-is situation now.

I thought they were OK on that front, Guy. They certainly could be better, and against better offensive lines -- Miami's still has holes even after adding this offseason -- they could have issues.

But between Deatrich Wise and Matthew Judon, I thought they were in the Dolphins backfield at a reasonable rate. Tagovailoa was pressured on 35 percent of his dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus, which placed him right in the middle of the league (15th).

The secondary, to me, was fine. Jonathan Jones did a solid job on Tyreek Hill, preventing Hill from administering anything representing a knockout blow. But there were two issues that the Patriots may need their defensive backs to clean up.

No. 1 was their tackling. As is often the case Week 1, it wasn't great. Kyle Dugger, who was a human wrecking ball when coming downhill, took a bad angle that led to Jaylen Waddle's long touchdown. Massive mistake, which he acknowledged after the game.

The other issue? Taking the football away when you have an opportunity. Not pouncing on fumbles will happen. Just the way the ball bounces, right? But the Patriots had two should-have-been picks -- one to Jack Jones, one to Devin McCourty broken up by Myles Bryant -- that could've changed the game. The defense is far enough ahead of the offense that they need those splash plays at this point in the year.

Bridge year, Ray? Not sure the owner would be thrilled with that. He told us in March he wants to be in the playoffs, win a playoff game, and truly contend. Now.

Will have a conversation I'm excited to share with you on Next Pats later this week that touches on some of what the Patriots could do. But here are some easy ways in which they can adjust: Play Kendrick Bourne more; get more creative in how Jonnu Smith is used; find more touches for Rhamondre Stevenson; use more play-action; use more RPOs.

On that last note, they didn't call a single RPO on Sunday. They worked on them in training camp. And Jones seems to be comfortable with them. Was interesting to see them not use them at all, though Miami's man-heavy approach may have encouraged them to go in a different direction.

Nope. Not technically. By rule, he can return after being out for four weeks. How he's replaced interests me. After doing some digging, it sounds as though the Patriots would be inclined to simply add to the workloads of both Damien Harris and Stevenson. Pierre Strong may not be ready for the kind of role that had been manned by Montgomery in Week 1, but perhaps JJ Taylor can elevate off the practice squad to help.

Harris and Stevenson are both viewed internally as legitimate options in the passing game. Harris is perhaps best described as functional in that area, whereas Stevenson is more dynamic. Harris may be best suited for swing routes, passes to the flat and check-downs, whereas Stevenson has shown he can be more of a vertical option based on his work from 2022.

Either way, the Patriots feel as though they have multiple options to help them fill the void left behind by Montgomery's injury.

Never say never with Belichick, but those close to him don't think this is his swan song. And I think the way he handled the coordinator position this offseason backs that up. He wanted to put someone in that role that he felt would be around for the foreseeable future. Nick Caley or Bill O'Brien may not be here in 2023. Particularly if one ended up getting a good season as a de facto coordinator under his belt. In Patricia and Judge, Belichick has coaches who he probably feels strongly will remain in Foxboro.

Could Belichick hope that Patricia is ready to be a head coach next season? With Judge taking over as the coordinator on that side of the ball? Perhaps, but I'm not anticipating it.

With more experience in the system, with the new language, things should become more cohesive up front. But it's going to take time. They got off on the wrong foot by trying to implement a new way of doing things without Andrews, their biggest brain, available. He was recovering from shoulder surgery in the spring and still limited at the start of camp.

Thanks, Josh. I think the Patriots believe Dugger can play centerfield when asked. As he did on that long Waddle touchdown. But maybe a breakdown like that one will lead them to steer him toward a more specified role. The role Patrick Chung had here for years, for instance, would make a lot of sense.

Belichick was very open during Chung's second go-round with the team that playing in the deep part of the field was not his strength. Once they got him closer to the line more consistently, he blossomed. I think the same will be true of Dugger, who is a force in the running game.

Don't see that happening. They've changed a lot this offseason to the system that Dante Scarnecchia, Cole Popovich and Carmen Bricillo coached.

I am. Get some shooting. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are adults. They've just recently sniffed a title. Can't see Carmelo Anthony coming in and poisoning them in any fashion, if that's what people are worried about.

That's what was interesting about the Dolphins matchup. Tua Tagovailoa didn't play well. He still ended up with over 8.0 yards per attempt and a quarterback rating of over 100.0. That's what the Shanahan offense can do for teams. That's what the Patriots were hoping for when they changed their offense this offseason. But in Week 1? They very rarely ran wide zone. They very rarely called for play-action.

They're pivoting to things they seem to do better, which is smart, but they were hoping for ratcheted-up efficiency this year thanks to some new schemes. Now they may be moving on, and those schemes are now in Miami and functioning as a quarterbacking cheat code.