Has Patriots' OC Bill O'Brien forgotten how to pass the ball?

The New England Patriots have avoided passing the ball this preseason.
Bill O'Brien passing game
Bill O'Brien passing game / Omar Rawlings/GettyImages

The preseason is over now, and the New England Patriots will begin finalizing their roster in preparation for the start of the regular season. Writers who follow the team will give you their bubble players, player grades, and projected 53-man roster over the next few days. The most significant question mark I have as I reflect back on these "unimportant" games, is about the coaching staff. In particular, their offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, and whether or not he remembers how to call passing plays.

There was a lot of criticism thrown at Matt Patricia last season by Patriots fans, and rightfully so. His play-calling style could be defined as cookie-cutter, or lacking imagination. When Bill Belichick recruited his former OC from Alabama, the sound of fans rejoicing was practically deafening. O'Brien orchestrated the unguardable double tight end offense in 2011 that led to one of Tom Brady's best statistical seasons of his career. Who better to resurrect Mac Jones' career?

The statistics this preseason seem to paint a picture that is completely opposite of the narrative we've been force-fed since O'Brien's arrival. With the entire offense praising his creativity, and Boston news outlets spewing about how amazing the new offense looks, the reality is that it looks like O'Brien has completely abandoned the passing game. The team is averaging just 23 pass attempts per game this preseason (last in the league), and mustering up a pitiful 86 yards per game in the air (also last in the league).

Preseason stats typically don't mean anything. The second-fewest passing yards per game belongs to the LA Chargers, and I think we all expect quarterback Justin Herbert to throw for 5,000 yards yet again in the regular season. Looking at the 2011 preseason, however, the Patriots averaged 40 passing attempts per game in those exhibitions. If you are going to air it out in the regular season, would you want to practice doing it in the preseason too?

Maybe Bill O'Brien is trying to protect his quarterbacks. The offensive line has been missing three starters, causing the quarterbacks to run for their lives every game. It is the main treason that Mac Jones only played a handful of snaps. Maybe the team feels that evaluating the third-string running back is more important than evaluating their receivers. Whatever the reason, this sports writer is concerned, and hoping that the play-calling does a 180 before week 1.86 yards per game isn't going to cut it, and spells out the possibility of a 1-16 season.

I'll wait til the regular season to fully analyze the job O'Brien is doing, and as a fan, I am hopeful for a repeat of the 2011 season. For the preseason though, it looks like the "offensive guru" has forgotten to call passing plays.