FOXBORO — There have been times during this training camp when the Patriots’ offense has looked disjointed. The race lock was not there. The lack of pass blocking often forced Mac Jones out of the pocket or toss the ball. The whole operation seemed 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 resolve the issues with the new offensive system.
Throughout the offseason, we’ve heard how the Patriots offense has been streamlined following the move of longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to Las Vegas. Players said it’s been “simplified” with new terminology that makes games easier to learn. After two days of padded training, we’ve seen what the players are referring to when it comes to changes on the attacking side.
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On Tuesday, Jones explained that his offense is still trying to learn the new basic plays. He’s not even to the point where he’s changing the game on the line of scrimmage since they’re in the infancy stage of that learning process.
“Right now, we’re just trying to get our base pieces released and see them on film. That’s the biggest part,” Jones said. “Every attack has a system where it can change the game and so can we. When you get there, you get there, but for now it’s more about the fundamentals.
It looks like the Patriots are adopting an offensive style made famous by Las Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay.
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When McDaniels led the offense, the Patriots’ offensive plays were rooted in the Ernhardt-Perkins system which emphasized a running game in which header blockers opened up certain holes in the offensive line and a passing game focused on shorter and faster passes.
With McDaniels and Tom Brady both now out of the picture, it looks like Belichick is moving that offense to the West Coast program, which has been made famous by coaches such as McVay and Kyle Shanahan.
With the Rams, McVay’s running game is a zone scheme. This has offensive linemen walking in the same direction (right or left) and blocking the first defender in that area. Usually the ball carrier runs outward. It’s different than what the Patriots have done in the past when they used a shooting guard or offensive lineman who had running backs attacking different spaces in the line.
Jakob Johnson, the Patriots guard last season, revealed after signing with the Raiders this offseason that he didn’t return to New England because the Patriots told him “they won’t have my position on the list”.
As Johnson said, the Pats have no roster back. At camp, there have been more outside runs, and the team has been practicing wide-area (or outside-area) runs for the past two days.
“It’s just a different element,” cornerback Jonathan Jones said. “They work hard. Change things. They work hard to improve and improve against us. It’s exciting to see something different.
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In the passing game, McVay’s offense uses wide receivers lined up in clusters. By stacking receivers in clusters, the opposing secondary is put under pressure and makes the play call less predictable. Theoretically, these group plays allow receivers to leave the line of scrimmage faster and allow the offense to play faster.
That’s exactly what Patriots receivers have been saying is different about new play calls this offseason — it gets them playing faster and getting off the line quicker. We saw these group games in training this week.
“Different teams in the league use tight groups,” Jones said. “A lot of times it’s to their advantage and we try to do that a bit more. There are different plays that you can miss out on. Anything 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 the first six days of camp. On Tuesday, Jones said there was some frustration as the defense prevailed. This has been the case for the last five days of camp.
On Tuesday, Jones completed 6 of 11 passes during 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 to have more to do with the Patriots implementing a new system than talent issues.
“I care a lot about football and we all do. It’s very competitive. When we lose the day, for me, it’s like a blow to the heart. It’s like you lost the game,” Jones said. “There’s a lot more to it because it’s the practice. You want to learn, but at the end of the day, we are here in competition. The goal is to have more good plays than the other team. In this case, it’s the defense right now.
“I feel like we can compete even more and even better. It’s just the execution, the X’s and the O’s and figuring out how to communicate with each other. Better days ahead. We’re at the start of this thing and we need to move it forward.
When you consider the Patriots setting up a new offense, the hiccups you see in practice start to make sense. For example, on Monday there were several run plays where the Pats had a comeback run to the outside, but the play was blown up by the defense. We saw some improvement on Tuesday, with Ty Montgomery finding outside holes with the offensive line blocking in unison.
A big positive is that Jones seems to have improved from last season and it looks like he has a better and more diverse set of receivers at his disposal. For the moment, the results are not there. The hope is that as offensive players learn this new system, results will improve.
“Some of the plays that we play, we go in there and see what it looks like first and then try to figure it out,” Jones said. “That’s the most important thing – getting the coins on screen. ‘Okay, here’s the thing, this guy is unblocked; how do you block him?’ It’s really not rocket science. Our job is to execute what they tell us, to go through my reads, to go through my running looks. We’re going to continue to grow in this area. … It takes repetition. It takes watch a movie.
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