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Ten Thoughts on the Patriots Offense Through Three Training Camp Practices

The Patriots offense finds itself in another transition phase with offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien installing a new system, the third offensive system for quarterback Mac Jones in as many years.

Although going up against head coach Bill Belichick’s defense daily is a tall task, the results for the offense have been mixed in the first three camp practices. Starting with the positives, the overall operation is significantly smoother than this time last year, with players understanding play calls, assignments, and other procedural details to play at a brisk pace. That’s an improvement, and a starting point, that the offense can build on moving forward, making all of this feel different than 2022.

With team periods taking place inside the red zone, space has been limited for the Patriots offense, which is running basic route concepts without many bells and whistles. Between a new playbook, rudimentary schemes, and a stingy defense on the other side, it’s understandable that the Pats offense hasn’t been exactly lighting things up so far. Plus, there have been isolated flashes, like JuJu Smith-Schuster catching a ten-yard laser from Mac Jones on a gun-action concept and Hunter Henry running the seam and going above Adrian Phillips for six.

However, the lack of consistency has come in troubling ways based on prior beliefs heading into camp. Jones’s accuracy and decision-making are mostly good when the conditions are optimal, meaning things are on time and the quarterback is protected. But receiver separation has been a problem, mainly someone having the ability to simply beat the defender in front of them on their own, with certain front liners failing to make an impact and others wearing coverage down the field, leading to inefficient, contested targets.

Then, there are ongoing question marks along the offensive line, especially at right tackle, where veteran Riley Reiff started the week before Conor McDermott began taking more reps on Friday. With starting right guard Mike Onwenu beginning camp on the PUP list, the right side of the offensive line, granted without pads or just in shells, hasn’t always held up in 11-on-11 drills.

The big-picture takeaway for the Patriots offense in the very early stages of camp is simple: will they begin moving the ball more easily when O’Brien can flex his scheme and game-planning muscles, or is this a player-based talent issue that can’t be solved entirely by coaching?

Only time will tell if O’Brien, with everything in his playbook at his disposal, can make the offense more consistent once real training camp and regular season games begin.

Here are ten quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots offense after three days at Pats Camp:

1. Some Glimpses Into the Master Plan for Bill O’Brien’s Second Stint in New England

Unfortunately, we can’t go into great detail about what the Patriots are doing schematically. But there are a few things we can highlight that caught the eye. First, this offense will primarily run out of 12 (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) or 11 (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) personnel groupings. The two tight ends sets, with Gesicki and Henry working off each other, have been a mainstay since the spring. O’Brien hasn’t shown as much about his run-game plans without pads, but they’ve been pretty multiple in that sense, with more zone-based rushing work in the first two days, followed by some gap-scheme drills on day three. Lastly, under-center play-action and an RPO package will probably be prominent features of their early-down offense, which should be A. Music to the quarterback’s ears, and B. Help the receivers get open by playing tricks with defenders. I’m waiting for the run game to fully declare once they’re in pads, and I wonder if we’ll see more motion at the snap as they continue to add things into the install.

2. Patriots QB Mac Jones is on the Right Track, But Playmaking Questions Remain

As we said in the opening, Jones looks more like his rookie-version self from a pocket poise and timing standpoint. His in-rhythm accuracy and decision-making have never been questioned; when the offense is operating as it should, he’s protected, and there are open receivers, Jones can distribute the ball to run an effective unit. However, the out-of-structure playmaking and ability to beat the blitz is still a work in progress. For example, when the Pats defense sent six rushers at Jones on Friday, he heaved a desperation jump ball up to Parker that Jon Jones batted down. Ideally, you’d like to see him find a quick outlet to beat the blitz by throwing “hot” to a higher-percentage option. On Thursday, the Pats ran a designed rollout to Jones’s right. When the initial routes were covered, he tried to throw back across his body into the middle of the field, and Kyle Dugger intercepted the pass. Jones immediately dropped down and did ten push-ups, a sign that the quarterback knew it was an ill-advised decision. The Patriots can win with an in-rhythm Jones, but if the QB isn’t going to create on his own, then it’s on the receivers and scheme to present him with timely options to get the ball out of his hand.

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