The Patriots enter the season with a new offensive coordinator for the first time since 2012 when Josh McDaniels joined Bill Belichick after a short stint with the Rams. Although not yet officially named the offensive coordinator (which seems to simply be a Belichickian ploy), all signs point to Matt Patricia calling plays (as he did for every snap taken by the first team this preseason). With the change in offensive coordinator comes a shift from the usual Patriot power run game to a more outside zone run scheme, at least that’s what we saw this preseason. We also saw this unit largely struggle under second-year quarterback Mac Jones during the preseason, raising questions as to the efficacy of an offense called by Patricia, who hasn’t even worked on the offensive side of the ball since 2005. That is to say, the change from McDaniels to Patricia, and the resulting expectation heading into the season from this offense, should not be understated. What we can say with a high degree of certainty is that this team’s identity is likely to revolve around the defense and an offensive line that PFF has as their seventh-ranked unit heading into 2022. The embarrassment of riches this team possessed on the defensive side of the ball allowed them to move on from Kyle Van Noy and J.C. Jackson, with Jonathan Jones and Raekwon McMillan set to take over. That should mean we see another dominant year after the Patriots held opponents to only 19.4 points per game in 2021, third-fewest in the league.
The departure of James White (retirement) and injury to Ty Montgomery (ankle) leaves the backfield in a likely tight 1A/1B situation split between incumbents Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Reports from camp and preseason seem to indicate the backfield will be far less situational and more aimed at keeping each fresh deep into the game, likely indicating we see each rotating in throughout a drive. That should be considered a boost to the weekly floor of each back as they are likely to see increased pass game work. As mentioned above, the most notable shift in this year’s backfield is a transition away from a power-focused rushing attack towards more outside zone elements, which should theoretically benefit Stevenson more than Harris – but that remains to be seen. The bigger issue I see is the relative incompetence we saw from the offense as a whole during the preseason, which could bring into question their scoring efficiency. As in, the Patriots ranked in the top 10 in total offense in nine of the previous 10 seasons, a trend that could be bucked this year.
Based on the composition of the pass-catching corps and weighed against the strengths of Mac Jones, I expect the overall theme of the passing game to remain relatively static heading into 2022. Basically, DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith are best suited to short-to-intermediate work where they are asked to win in the first five yards, leaving only Kendrick Bourne to stretch the field vertically to start the season (dynamic rookie wide receiver Tyquan Thornton was placed on injured reserve and will miss the first four games of the season, at minimum). As such, expect the passing game to focus on moving the chains in a methodical fashion, dinking-and-dunking down the field by limiting mistakes and avoiding long down and distance to go situations. This does two things for our understanding of this unit: (1) if effective, it should lead to high time of possession and minimal overall game volume, and (2) if ineffective, it could put additional strain on a “bend but don’t break” defense.