The 2022-2023 season for the New England Patriots was a tale of two different teams. On the defensive side the Pats were dominant. They ranked 2nd in takeaways, 8th in yards allowed per game, and 9th in total yards. The unit scored 7 defensive touchdowns this past season, setting a team record and coming two short of the NFL record. Most importantly, young stars shined for the Pats this season. Defensive backs Jack Jones and Marcus Jones made huge impacts during their rookie campaigns. The duo combined for 69 tackles, 13 passes defended, and two interceptions. Marcus was also used as a punt returner, and even found himself as a receiver on offense. He ended up reaching the end zone 3 times, once at each position, and earning himself All-Pro honors as a returner. Thank god for Marcus because he was one of the only bright spots on the other side of the ball.
The Patriots offense was a complete dumpster fire. They finished 26th in yards per game, 24th in total rushing yards, and 26th in total passing yards. The unit ranked dead last in red zone scoring percentage. Individual talent took a huge step in the wrong direction, with Kendrick Bourne BARELY PLAYING, the entire offensive line being an injured mess, and most disappointingly Mac Jones regressing beyond comprehension. What do I attribute this too? The most baffling decision in Patriots history, Matt Patricia and Joe Judge being appointed as the masterminds of the offense.
Joe Judge, the former Patriots Wide Receivers coach and Special Teams Coordinator, came back to the Pats this past season after a disastrous campaign as Giants head coach. His time in NY saw Judge lead the G-Men to a whopping 10 wins in 2 years. So while he wasn’t a good option his offensive experience made his hiring sort of defendable.
The UNFATHOMABLE choice was the rehiring of Matt Patricia. Patricia was the “defensive mastermind” of the team for the 2012-2017 stretch. Patricia gained respect from coaches and players alike for his touted “bend don’t break” defenses.
However, on his way out some fans questioned Patricia’s legitimacy as a defensive genius. Fans claimed he had been carried by high end talent and was being shielded by Bill Belichick’s history of excellence. This concern celery didn’t reach the execs of the Detroit Lions, as they felt Patricia was more than qualified to not only run the defense but to become head coach.
When you mention this period of Lions football to anyone who dares rep the blue and silver, you risk violent repercussions. Patricia ran an undisciplined mess that can barely be considered a team from 2018-2020 totalling just 14 wins. These teams were famous for their horrific passing defenses and dysfunctional culture. By the end of his FIRST SEASON in Detroit, there were reports of players celebrating with mimosas and music at the thought of not having to deal with Patricia’s ruthless personality, at least until OTA’s. Other players whose contracts had run out at the end of the 2018 season were yelling to other players to “enjoy next season”.
Bleacher Report’s Kalyn Kahler quotes a former Lions running back who said “There was a lot of, ‘You all have fun, because I am gone!'”. In just 16 games Patricia had lost the entire team. Despite all of this Bilechick felt the need to stay loyal to his guy and brought him back to join the staff as a “senior football advisor” What the hell that meant no one really knew. However, this past season his role became quite clear through reports from training camp.
Coming off a year where Patriots fans enjoyed watching a new QB, who yes made his fair share of mistakes, but had his moments, and led the Patriots to the playoffs and commanded a top 5 scoring offense and a top 15 total offense. This combined with a solid offense and what seemed like heaps of potential gave Patriots fans hope for the near future.
Where I lost faith is the moment I found out Matt Patricia was calling plays for the offense in camp. My initial thought when I had first heard about this was I must have heard wrong, or if I had heard correctly then it must have been a mean spirited gag. Surely the Bill hasn’t gone that far off the reservation. By the preseason, my fears were confirmed. Patricia had taken over and all hell broke loose.
The Las Vegas Lateral, the fumble at the end of the Cincinnati game, and overall lack of competence by the offensive unit were the nails in the coffin for the Patriots season and any reputation Patricia had built in New England. As questions swirled and all seemed lost for Pats nation, a hand reached down from the heavens and handed us what we had asked for for the past year, a REAL offensive coordinator, Bill O’Brien.
O’Brien had been a candidate in the minds of the Patriots faithful for months. He was on the staff as the offensive coordinator during the 2009-2011 stretch, all years in which the Patriots offense was top 5 in the league in YPG and PPG. He then went on to be the head coach at Penn State (2012-2013) and then the head coach of the Houston Texans (2014-2020) before ending up at Bama to be the OC for the legendary Nick Saban.
While O’Brien certainly has an impressive resume his last two tenures have been met with some controversy. Bill was practically thrown out of Houston after trading Deondre Hopkins for a bag of chips, and his two years at Bama have been heavily scrutinized by fans due to their lack of “success” in the past few years. Worst of all, some seem to be under the impression that this hire is just another example of Bill Bellichick being incapable of hiring an outside guy.
And while I acknowledge all these concerns as valid, I couldn’t care less. The bottom line is Bill O’Brien is 1000% more qualified and competent at running an offense than Matt Patricia and Joe Judge combined. He is and has always been an offensive guy. O’Brien is also already familiar with Mac Jones, as the two worked together prior to the 2021 NFL Draft. This means that Jones already has a feel for O’Brien’s style of coaching and O’Brien already has a feel for Mac’s style of play.
The most exciting part for me though is O’Brien’s emphasis on accountability. Last year the Patriots were uncharacteristically messy. Special teams was a disaster and our offense had way too many moments practically handing the ball to the opposition. Yet week to week it seemed like the coaching staff was completely oblivious to this fact, and continued to allow the Pats to churn out turnovers faster than your local bakery.
O’Brian will not be one to just let things happen. He is known for his very confrontational and to put it politely “direct” style. This style leads to a lot more accountability and a lot less turnovers. While I realize he does not have anything to do with special teams, my hope is that O’Brian’s unit will have a trickle down effect on the special teams sloppy play.
To say that Bill O’Brian will completely turn the team around in just one year is a stretch, so I won’t even go there, but what I will say is that his ability and his experience give me hope that this offense is finally taking steps in the right direction. At the end of the day we have been given a real opportunity to have a productive offense and what Mac and the rest of the offensive unit do with that opportunity is completely up to them. If O’Brian proves to be just the guy we needed and Mac can return to form, I truly believe Patriots fans have a lot to look forward to this upcoming season.