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The Panic Over the Patriots Offense Has Reached Fever Pitch, and I Am Here for All of It

Listen, I could take the easy way out here. Just zero in on the batting practice fastball that is Nick Wright declaring once again that the Patriots are doomed, get the bat of his inherent, repeated wrongness around on the ball, launch it into the upper deck of their continued success, flip the bat, leave the cage and go take some fielding. But that's not how I like to operate. I'm more of a Tony Gwynn-style technician than an instinctual see-ball-hit-ball type. I want to dive into the spin rate and launch angle on this. So indulge me while I hit the film room and look at the tape. 

The fact is, the Patriots offense has had its difficulties in the first couple of weeks of 2022 camp. Which is to say, the more they've been in actual game conditions, in 11-on-11 work and then full pads, the more the defense has had hand. 

I've admitted as much. So has pretty much everyone who's been to those later practices. 

Mike Reiss on ESPN - [T]here have been more "no chance" plays -- in which Jones and rookie quarterback Bailey Zappe have simply tucked the football or thrown it away -- than the norm for a Bill Belichick-coached team. Part of that seems related to the Patriots experimenting with new things. Belichick said late last week that the team was "inching along" while adding there are "miles to go" -- which seems to reflect where the offense is through nine practices.

It's a situation that has been acknowledged by Mac Jones, who has said, “I think right now, it’s more about the communication of getting there, and we need to kind of just grow a little bit more here and kind of pick up the pace a little bit and see if we can kind of get ready for this next week right here. That’s all you can ask for.” 

And, most recently, Jakobi Meyers. “It’s definitely been something to get used to,” he said on NFL Network. “It’s like they say with change at all, any change is kind of hard. There’s going to be growing pains, and I think we’re going through that stage. This is the kind of place where they want everything perfect, so it’s just — change and perfection are kind of a hard mix.”

That last part is the key to everything else being said. Bill Belichick and his staff, for better or worse, chose this year to revamp the  offense he's been running since he rode into town with Charlie Weis in the shotgun seat with a copy of the Erhardt-Perkins playbook across his lap during the Clinton Administration. It was an offense that worked better than any in the business for 20 years. At least it did for those who could master it. Tom Brady. Troy Brown. Deion Branch. Randy Moss. Wes Welker. Rob Gronkowski. Julian Edelman. And, you can add, Jones and Meyers. 

But it's not for everyone, as we've learned. So many gifted athletes who produced elsewhere passed through this system like kernels of undigested corn, and were flushed out. Just to cite one example, Cam Newton by his own admission had never been asked to identify the Mike linebacker or call out protection schemes until he got to Foxboro. And by Rob Ninkovich's own admission, rookie Mac Jones was teaching Newton the system almost from the  moment he got here. 

So a momentous decision was made that it was time to "streamline" (the coaches' word, not mine) the playbook. This is a team that has the fifth highest cap hit of any wide receiver room in the league, and signed the two most coveted tight ends in the 2021 free agent class. And invested a second round pick on the fastest wideout in the last draft in Tyquan Thornton. And with Josh McDaniels in Las Vegas, there was no need to teach a 46 year old dog (6 1/2 in dog years) a new trick, the switch to a modified version of the Kyle Shanahan/Sean McVay system was made. Something that is more inclusive. That has been demonstrably able to gain yards,. move the chains, eat up time of possession, and score in big numbers. Without requiring everyone to solve the proof left on a chalkboard in an MIT hallway just to know whether to run a hitch or a slant and go. 

The decision to make the transition now explains why Belichick didn't simply do what I assumed he would when McDaniels left and hire Bill O'Brien away from Nick Saban in Alabama. They didn't want O'Brien because changes were in order. Wholesale changes. We're always hearing this is a copycat league, and they are copying some highly successful cats. Despite the fact that the criticism of Belichick has long been that he's too slow to adapt to new trends. Too set in his ways. Now he's getting ripped for being on the cutting edge of evolution.

And as both Jones and Meyers - who again, thrived in the McOffense - recognize, change isn't easy. It takes time. And as someone who tried helping his kids with their homework, I can concur.

Giphy Images.

The question is not whether the Patriots offense will ever manage to sort it out. The question is why anyone would think they won't. I repeat that they're not developing some new, untested prototype that has never been used before. This thing is patented, peer-reviewed and FDA approved. The Yelp reviews are good. It's been proven effective in clinical tests. Your results may vary.

It's as ridiculous to assume that Jones and the unit he runs can't master it as it is to think there won't be an adjustment period. Change never happens in straight, upward trajectory. There's a shaking out process, with dips and struggles and adjustments along the way. Which is what we're seeing.

We're 35 days away from this new weapon being used in live fire exercises. They don't need it to be perfect now. They need it to be better tomorrow than it was today, and so on. Or as a very smart man put it, "Change and perfection are kind of a hard mix." But we can add, not too hard for some. Despite the negative plays, Mac Jones overall body of work this camp has been better than the Nick Wrights of the world would care to admit. 

So just hold your wad for now. The time to panic might yet come. But it is not now.