With long-time offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels leaving to become head coach in Las Vegas, the New England Patriots were left with no clear successor to replace him on the offensive side of the ball.
Instead of bringing in an experienced offensive play-caller, head coach Bill Belichick went completely against conventional NFL wisdom and hired two former Patriots assistants and NFL head coaches into key roles on the offensive side of the ball. Former Lions head coach Matt Patricia and former Giants head coach Joe Judge had never been in significant positions on offense in their coaching tenure prior to this season, with Patricia having three total years of NFL experience on the offensive side of the ball and Judge possessing only one year.
Patricia is listed on the Patriots’ team website as Senior Football Advisor / Offensive Line coach, and he has taken over play-calling duties on offense — something he’d never done before this season. Meanwhile, Judge, whose only experience on offense came as New England’s wide receivers coach in 2019, has assumed the QB coach role.
The narrative around the Patriots in training camp was that the offense was going to struggle due to the collective lack of experience by Patricia and Judge in their current roles. In my two days at Patriots training camp in August, I saw none of that and noted how organized the offense functioned throughout the practices, and how smooth the communication between quarterback Mac Jones, Patricia and Judge appeared.
Now, through six games this season, the tape validates what I saw over the summer. More importantly, it validates that coach Belichick knew exactly what he was doing in placing both former head coaches in their current positions. Together, with Coach Belichick leading the way, the Patriots offensive staff has changed the narrative and turned the offense into arguably one of the better-coached units in the league.
There are a number of things that the tape clearly confirms:
1. Patricia is quickly ascending into a very good play-caller.
2. Judge has helped grow a rookie fourth-round draft choice in Bailey Zappe into an efficient QB.
3. The offensive line has been sound in its protection pickups, giving Zappe space in recent weeks to step up, see the throw and complete a throwing motion.
4. The coordination between route structure and route discipline is evident.
5. Zappe has proven to be courageous and shown mobility in the pocket.
The bottom line: This offense is being coached at a high level.
Below are some key plays that have shown this offensive continuity over the past few weeks:
1. Patricia As Play-Caller Ascending
On third-and-1 (above) from the Browns 31-yard line, Patricia adds an offensive lineman (#61) where everyone in the stadium believed that first-year play caller would call a run, get the first down, confirm field goal range, and get four more downs. Instead, Patricia calls a play action pass; Zappe gets perfect pass protection and hits a wide-open Hunter Henry for a touchdown. The Browns are caught completely on their heels. This is excellent football.
2. Judge’s Positive Effect on Zappe
In Pic 1 (above), you see a Judge-coached QB look left, moving both Browns inside linebackers to create space to throw the slant in Pic 2 (below). Zappe delivers one foot in front of the numbers to allow Devante Parker to maximize the run after catch. This is extremely impressive!
The play above once again illustrates Patricia’s and Judge’s coaching of the offense and quarterback. On this third-and-9 call against man-to-man coverage (Cover 1), Zappe has Jakobi Meyers in the slot running an out route and winning. If the ball was thrown to the out, it would lead to a first down and put the Patriots in field-goal range while giving them another set of downs. But Zappe sees a one-on-one “go” route versus press up the sideline to Parker.
He does not look like a rookie fourth-round pick here. In the NFL, it’s the QB’s job to find the best one-on-one player. In this case the best play is to take the shot!
Let’s look at the whole picture:
- Both wide receivers at the bottom of screen from a technique standpoint versus press have run excellent routes to get open (good coaching).
- The protection is excellent and allows Zappe to complete a throwing motion (good coaching).
- What is so impressive here is the way Zappe is being coached to take the shot up the sideline to Parker instead of taking the high percentage throw to the square out for a first down.
- Zappe completes the big play for a first down up the sideline to Parker.
3. O-Line Sound in Protection Pickups
On first down to start the fourth quarter with the Patriots up 24-9 , Patricia stays aggressive with a beautifully executed play-action pass. The protection plan is a thing of beauty. Once again, Zappe has a chance to see the throw and complete a throwing motion (above).
A patient and well-executed corner route by Meyers, and a well-located throw by Zappe result in an explosive play (below).
Look how clean and firm the middle of the pocket is from tackle to tackle (above), allowing Zappe to once again see the throw and complete a throwing motion against a very good Cleveland front.
4. Route-Structure, Discipline-Structure Coordination Evident
The picture above is a clear illustration of great coaching on the quick WR screen game. Every defender is blocked and locked on by the appropriate wide receiver or offensive lineman. This is extremely impressive schematically, as it is not easy to get a full body on defenders in space.
On third-and-7 from the Browns’ 11-yard line (above), Patricia calls a man-beater and the slot receiver at the bottom, #84 Kendrick Bourne, runs a beautiful route, vertically squeezing his defender to give himself room to the sideline at the top of his route while giving Zappe time on his drop to set his feet, hitch, and throw.
Again, with outstanding pass protection and route discipline versus man-to-man coverage, Zappe anticipates Bourne’s final break and gets the ball up and out before Bourne brings his head and eyes, resulting in a completion for 6 points.
5. Zappe Courageous and Mobile in Pocket
Early in the Cleveland game, Zappe showed his courage and toughness (above) by delivering with accuracy to Bourne with Cleveland DT Jordan Elliott In his face.
At 11:54 in the fourth quarter on first-and-15 (below), Zappe shows his ability to extend the play by moving in the pocket to his left under pressure and delivering a strike to Tyquan Thornton on corner route.
It is clear from the tape that Belichick’s decision to go against conventional NFL wisdom is working. His willingness to put excellent coaches such as Patricia and Judge in roles they’ve never assumed previously has paid off in an unprecedented way. In years to come, this decision will be a consideration for future staff alignments. Credit goes to not only Patricia and Judge, but to the entire offensive staff.
Belichick has always believed that a good football coach can coach anywhere on the field. This may be a legendary decision by a legendary coach who is closing out a legendary career.
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