FOXBORO — There have been moments during this training camp when the Patriots offense has looked disjointed. The run blocking hasn’t been there. The lack of pass blocking has often caused MacJones to have to run out of the pocket or to throw the ball away. The entire operation has looked out of sync.
After seeing the changes that have been made to the offense, it’s clear that Jones and the offense are struggling to work out the kinks of the new offensive system.
All offseason, we’ve heard how the Patriots offense has been streamlined in the wake of long-term offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ move to Las Vegas. Players said it’s been “simplified” with new terminology that makes plays easier to learn. After two days of padded practices, we’ve seen what the players are referring to when it comes to the changes on the offensive end.
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On Tuesday, Jones explained that his offense is still trying to learn the new base plays. He’s not even at the point where he’s changing plays at the line of scrimmage since they’re in the infancy stage of this learning process.
“Right now, we’re just trying to run our base plays and see it on film. That’s the biggest part,” Jones said. “Every offense has a system where they can change the play and we do, too. When we get there, we get there, but right now it’s more about the fundamentals.”
It appears that the Patriots are moving to a style of offensemade famous by Las Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay.
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When McDaniels was running the offense, the Patriots offensive plays were rooted in the Ernhardt-Perkins system that emphasized a run game in which lead blockers opened up certain holes in the offensive line and a passing game that focused on shorter, quick passes.
With McDaniels and Tom Brady both now out of the picture, it appears Belichick is moving this offense to the West Coast scheme, which was made famous by coaches such as McVay and Kyle Shanahan.
With the Rams, McVay’s run game is a zone scheme. This has offensive linemen stepping in the same direction (right or left) and blocking the first defender in that area. Usually, the running back is running to the outside. It’s different from what the Patriots did in the past when they utilized a fullback or a pulling offensive lineman that had running backs attack different gaps in the line.
Jakob Johnson, the Patriots fullback last season, revealed after he signed with the Raiders this offseason that he didn’t come back to New England because the Patriots told him “they will no longer have my position on the roster.”
As Johnson said, the Pats don’t have a fullback on the roster. In camp, there have been more outside runs and the team has been practicing wide-zone (or outside-zone) runs over the last two days.
“It’s just a different element,” said cornerback Jonathan Jones. “They’re working hard. Switch up on things. They’re working hard to improve and getting better going against us. It’s exciting seeing something different.”
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In the passing game, McVay’s offense utilizes wide receivers lined up in bunches. By stacking receivers in bunches, the opposing secondary is pressured and makes the play-call less predictable. Theoretically, these bunch plays allow receivers to get off the line of scrimmage quicker and lets the offense play faster.
That’s exactly what Patriots receivers have said is different about the new play calls this offseason — that it allows them to play faster and get off the line quicker. We’ve seen these bunch plays in practice this week.
“Different teams around the league use tight bunches,” said Jones. “A lot of times it’s for their advantage and we’re trying to do that a little bit more. There are different plays you can run out of them. Anything that’s different can help confuse the defense.”
Patriots aim to improve as they learn the new system
It hasn’t been pretty for the Patriots offense through the first six days of camp. On Tuesday, Jones said there’s been some frustration when the defense wins the day. That has been the case the last five days of camp.
On Tuesday, Jones completed 6-of-11 passes in full-team drills. On Monday, he went 5 of 8 with his third interception in three practices. The reason for the recent negative results, however, seems like it’s more about the Patriots implanting a new system rather than them having issues with talent.
“I care a lot about football and we all do. It’s very competitive. When we lose the day, to me that’s like a shot in the heart. It’s like you lost the game,” said Jones. “There’s a lot more of that because it’s practice. You want to learn, but at the end of the day, we’re out here competing. The goal is to have more good plays than the other team. In that case, that’s the defense right now.
“I feel like we can compete even more and even better. It’s just execution, the X’s and O’s and figuring out how to communicate with each other. Better days ahead. We’re in the start of this thing and we have to get it going.”
When we consider that the Patriots are implementing a new offense, the hiccups we’re seeing in practice start to make sense. For example, on Monday, there were multiple run plays where the Pats had a running back run to the outside, but the play was blown up by the defense. We saw some improvements on Tuesday, with Ty Montgomery finding outside holes with the offensive line blocking in unison.
A big positive is that Jones looks improved from last season and it appears as though he has a better and more diverse group of receivers at his disposal. Right now, the results aren’t there. The hope is that, as the offensive players learn this new system, the results will improve.
“Some of the plays we’re running, we’re going out there and seeing what it looks like first and then try to figure it out,” said Jones. “That’s the biggest thing — getting the plays on the screen. ‘Ok, here’s the problem, this guy is unblocked; how do we block him?’ It’s really not rocket science. Our job is to execute what they tell us, go through my reads, go through my run looks. We’re going to continue to grow in that area. … It takes reps. It takes watching film.”