New England Patriots: 3 biggest duds of the 2023 season

It's virtually impossible to pick something that hasn't gone wrong for the Patriots this season, but what are three things that definitely need to improve going forward?

Nov 26, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37)
Nov 26, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
facebooktwitterreddit
Prev
3 of 3
Next

Biggest dud of them all in 2023 #3: Bill O'Brien

Finally, the biggest dud has to be the Bill O’Brien offense.

If I told you Tom Brady’s former QB coach (in 2009 when Brady made the Pro Bowl) would take over the Patriots offensive play calling this season and make it worse, you would justifiably think I was drunk. But that’s what has happened.

O’Brien took over from the head coach, a former defensive coordinator, and a former special teams coach who were somehow all trying to call plays into Mac Jones’ headset last season. In 2022, the Patriots scored 32.8% of their drives; that’s down to 22.4% this year!

A large part of the issue is transitioning from the Patriots’ traditional Erhardt-Perkins system to O’Brien’s adapted West Coast system. And a portion of that is Adrian Klemm taking over the coaching of the offensive line.

Nobody would have thought that unit could have regressed after Matt Patricia was relieved of his duties, yet somehow it has.

In 2023 the Patriots averaged 5.3 yards per play; this year, it has decreased to 4.7! The most perplexing part of this whole thing is that O’Brien was in Foxborough between 2007 and 2011, and Klemm was drafted by the Patriots in 2000 and played 26 games as a Patriot. It is a mystery why they have decided to revolutionize something that only needed to be better organized.

And then there's his ego...

O’Brien’s ego has been all too present on the Patriots’ sideline though. He berated Mac Jones so effusively that the young QB has looked traumatized in his post-game interviews.

Despite that Jones has refused to blame the system or anyone else for the offenses many failings during the season. He maintained that he needed to be better, but he isn’t the only one with room for improvement.

O’Brien seems so sure his offense isn’t the problem that he’s stuck to his guns all season. He doesn’t appear to have noticed that Trent Brown is one of the best run-blocking linemen in the NFL.

According to ESPN, only four offensive tackles have a better winning percentage on run blocks. And 2 of the tackles ahead of him play for the Eagles! To maximize that advantage, you’d just run behind the guy winning his blocks, right? Wrong.

The offense has been so inconsistent in 2023 that they haven’t always crossed the threshold required for NextGen to chart it! But in Week 8, all 10 of Rhamondre Stevenson’s carries came between the tackles. In Week 12, 4 of Stevenson’s longest runs were to the outside, but he ran to the outside on 6 of 21 carries.

Helping his quarterback succeed doesn’t seem to be something O’Brien is particularly interested in either. In 2022, Jones's most successful passes were deep over the middle and to receivers on intermediate routes to the right of the formation. His weakest area was intermediate routes to the left of the formation. Inexplicably, this season, O’Brien has had him throw a significant number of passes to receivers in that area.  

That’s one of the reasons screen passes haven’t really worked. Well, that and the left tackle is one of the best run blockers in the league.

The chances of 370 lbs of Trent Brown getting out in front of Demario Douglas are pretty skinny (unlike Trent). Against the Giants in Week 12, they threw 12 screen passes, and while Patriots.com try to polish that hot mess by saying 6 of them worked, 6 of them obviously didn’t. One screen pass ended with a five-yard loss!

And the Patriots site explains this by saying that left guard Cole Strange isn’t great at blocking on screen passes; he’s not the only one. But O’Brien keeps calling them.