After a Whole Offseason of Talk About a New Patriots Offense, it Looks Like They've Gone Back to the Old One

Boston Globe. Getty Images.

We're just two games into the 2022 season. So it goes without saying that it's preposterously early to start drawing definitive conclusions. Though that didn't stop me from saying it just now. But going through the broad strokes of Sunday's win at Pittsburgh, I just can't see where I was wrong in the bleary, red-eyed, hungover Knee Jerk Reaction to the game I posted Monday morning:

--While we're talking Patricia (and when this year are we not?), the offense that he went to great lengths to install this offseason is beginning to look very familiar. Meet the new scheme, same as the old scheme. We were sold on this idea that we could expect a variation on the Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan systems, with motions all over the place, Jet sweeps, "Sift Action" where the tight ends come across to block the backside edge defender, throwback screens and whatnot. But it looks like we're just getting a lot of whatnot. Which is to say, the Erhardt-Perkins system they were running before. Certainly the motions are the same, receivers and tight ends coming across the formation presnap to determine coverages. Jones calling out the Mike and adjusting the protection accordingly. If there's been some great evolution here, I'm no Charles Darwin because I'm not seeing it. I'm still a Creationist who believes the offense was made in six days by Charlie Weis, 23 years ago. So it says in The Good Book.

That's an idea that certainly seems to be validated by something Kendrick Bourne's comments to reporters Sunday. “There’s plenty of things we’ve scrapped,” Bourne said. “Knowing what we do well and (the coaches) knowing us and just playing to our strengths, we’re learning that well. And today, you could just see that. We were flowing really well, so it felt good.” 

Even allowing for the fact that it's still in the DNA of this coaching staff to be game-specific and come up with a different plan for each opponent week-to-week and they felt playing power football was the way to beat the Pittsburgh and neutralize the pass rush that almost killed Joe Burrow the week before, it's impossible not to look at the way the plays have been called since the preseason turned into the regular season and not see a pattern. 

Sticking just with the run game, starting with Fauxball Game 2, since the starters didn't play the entire first week, here is the breakdown of the run plays, according to Pro Football Focus numbers:

Preseason Week 2 vs. Carolina: Zone: 14, Gap 12

Preseason Week 3 vs. Las Vegas: Zone: 6, Gap 10

Real Football Week 1 vs. Miami: Zone: 11, Gap: 8

Week 2 vs. Pittsburgh: Zone: 5, Gap: 18

This is just a small sample size. But those numbers would seem to indicate that, like a couple trying a new move to spice things up, they tried something, didn't like how it felt, and decided to go back to what's always worked for them in the past. Or, to use Bourne's word, they "scrapped" it. That they recognized their (Bourne's word again) strengths, and made the decision the best thing for all involved is to play to them. A big offensive line and two power running backs and realized that all that finesse required for zone blocking was doing smallish defensive fronts built around sideline-to-sideline speed was just doing the opposition a favor. And with the offense ranked 4th in PFF's Run Blocking grades, it so far it seems like the pragmatic move. 

It looks like more of the same in the passing game, though that's harder to say definitively. Like I mentioned, the things we expected to see, with all that misdirection, play action and backside screens, simply haven't been there. There are tight ends and receivers coming across the formation or going short motion to create a stack or a bunch, but only in the way we're accustomed to. Nothing at all like the complex choreography you see in San Francisco and Los Angeles on practically every down. As was supposed to happen. According to Evan Lazar of, they've only motioned at the snap 4.3% of the time, fewest in the league.

As far as play action, so far they've run a league low seven of them. Though Belichick explained how it's less effective against blitz-heavy teams like Miami and Pittsburgh. So there's the chance we'll see more of it going forward. Especially given that his passer rating of 100.1 last season on those throws was almost 22 points higher than his non-play action, his nearly 1,300 passing yards was 11th most in the league, and his completion % of 70.7 was eighth most. If you're going to rely on a power run game predicated on gap runs, countering them with play action from a QB who does it well is the definition of playing to your strength. 

One concept that has been among the trendiest in the league has yet to become a huge part of the Patriots attack, though Jones ran it a lot in Alabama, and that is the RPO. Though that could be on the uptick here finally:

Another trend we might have seen in the win at Pittsburgh is Jones hitting more throws to the intermediate-to-deep middle, which was probably his weak area as a rookie. This is his chart from Next Gen Stats:


And while I won't do the "if you take away that interception" thing, because it's disingenuous (NextGenuous? DisNextGenuous? I'll work on it) because that was a pisspoor decision and a ball that never should've been thrown. Still, that's 6 of 9 for 90 yards, thanks to a lot of crossing routes using Yankee concepts (deep verticals with crossers under) against the Steelers single high safety looks. And that is very much a product of the McVay/Shanahan method. 

All of which is an admittedly long winded way of saying that for all the buildup of what the Matt Patricia and/or Joe Judge era would be like, this new look system, this philosophical change, all that drama of the offense struggling and Jones looking visibly frustrated all summer, just seems to be a few minor tweaks. Fine tuning, instead of a complete engine overhaul. Painting the trim, as opposed to remodeling it down to the studs. Canceling the implant surgery and just buying a pushup bra. 

If I'm right and this continues, we can argue about whether this was a bad idea from the start that wasted half the summer on a plan, only to see it "scrapped." And debate about how much further along they'd be if they just stuck with what has worked here for 22 of the last 23 years (the exception being the Cam Newton season). But if by the beginning of October they're producing four-plus touchdowns a game, none of us will give a tinker's damn what happened in July and August or what changed after. We'll just be glad this offense got there, not care what route they took. Stay tuned.