The New England Patriots have sunk to a low not seen in decades. They sit 2-7 in the basement of the AFC East after a defeat to the lowly Washington Commanders. The 2023 season is for all intents and purposes over. Pats staunch defenders have to take a breath and now come to the inevitable conclusion that poor personnel coaching decisions are responsible for this dramatic descent into sub-mediocrity.
The Patriots have been taken to task for their personnel policy inadequacies by many observers. They are certainly a major aspect of the team's steep fall, yet, coaching decisions related to personnel are also key contributors and will be the subject here.
Mac Jones was not singularly culpable for the loss to Washington but neither was he able to deliver when the going got tough. Time and time again, Jones will deliver a goose egg when a strike is required. Jones had a poor game against Washington with two interceptions continuing a less-than-optimal third season for the former first-round pick.
The choice here would be to have today played dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham and to give him a good runout to see if the investment made on him as an undrafted free agent was worthwhile, as a quarterback. If not, the draft strategy in April 2024 is to draft a quarterback. Jones should have been traded at the deadline. He wasn't and picking up his fifth-year option isn't an option.
The New England Patriots are mismanaging their defensive line talent
After replacing Jones at quarterback, the Patriots have to straighten out their defensive tackle situation. Ironically, they actually have the requisite talent at defensive tackle to deploy. However, they are reluctant to do so in the correct manner.
Christian Barmore has emerged as an absolute pocket-crusher at defensive tackle. (Why is he not re-signed?) He's best deployed on the nose (though he's not very often) where he is unblockable by one offensive lineman. Too often, however, he's moved into a gap where he's effective but not maximizing his talent.
In addition, having finally hit on two top 2023 draft picks in Christian Gonzalez and Keion White, neither of whom were the traditional Patriot reaches, the coaching staff still won't deploy the impressive White where they should. Bill Belichick and his defensive coordinator, whoever that may be, continue to play White standing up on the edge. He's solid there, but inside he's an absolute pocket destroyer. Add him in an inside gap to Barmore on the nose, and it's a formidable duo.
The lack of insight of the Patriots coaching staff on this issue is befuddling. What's obvious to even casual observers should be obvious to them. It isn't and they continue to deploy two "just others guys" in Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy Sr. at the tackle spots with understandable results. They're just not good enough.
The New England Patriots offensive line gaffes helped trash the season
The New England Patriots offensive line strategy in the offseason rated a grade of D-. They did little to substantively remedy an obvious deficient group, including drafting no offensive tackles in 2023. In the first six games or so the right tackle position was a disaster. Key free agent Riley Reiff has been hurt and hasn't played much tackle when he is healthy.
Trades to try to bolster the position after Calvin Anderson's illness were a total flop. The team traded for Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Vederian Lowe and neither could do much of anything in the way of blocking. Only when Belichick finally placed Michael Onwenu at right tackle, a position he played exceedingly well in their last playoff season in 2021, did the offensive line resemble a solid one.
In 2021, Belichick's delay in inserting Onwenu into the right guard spot cost the team the AFC East Division title, a bye week, and a home playoff game. This season, it possibly wrecked the entire season though there has been lots of blame to go around leading to this calamitous current situation.
The demise of the 2023 New England Patriots can be attributed not only to a lackluster offseason in personnel acquisition (and to be fair, some lousy injuries to key players) but also to poor coaching decisions with the personnel at hand. Whatever the reasons, the 2023 season has now essentially been consigned to the dustbin of history. It's time to move on.
What transpires from this point on is subject to conjecture, including who runs the show in 2024. That decision will be made by Robert Kraft, the Patriots' owner. Changes have to be made and first has to be securing a top guy to run the entire personnel operation. Meanwhile, Cunningham should be the quarterback the rest of the way to see if he can take the helm in 2024. There is absolutely nothing whatsoever to lose. The 2023 season is over.