Friday, September 10, 2021

Pats Preview 2021: The Offense

Hello all, how have you been of late? Quite the off-season, wasn't it?

The Patriots didn't take their 2020 sub-.500 season lying down. They spent a record amount on free agents, welcomed back several COVID-year opt-outs, and drafted their QB of the future... or is that the present?

Here are the the key points on offense as we head into a season with lots of new faces, what they mean to the team, and how they are likely to integrate the new folks and scheme things up for the rookie QB.

1. Improvement At Every Position

It's basically inarguable that the Patriots improved every position group on offense. In 2020 they had among the worst quarterback play, the least talented wideouts (especially after Julian Edelman got injured), and had the least productive tight ends by a country mile.

Even the running backs and offensive line are better this season, even though they were both very good last year.

2. MJ10

Rookie quarterback Mac Jones beat out Cam Newton for the starting gig. He seemed to grasp the offense quickly, including blitz adjustments and ball security -- both very important to the Patriots throughout Bill Belichick's time here.

Jones' skillset is more in line with how the Patriots liked to run their offense with the old man who used to play here. Quick reads and passes, largely short throws to the middle of the field and screen passes to avoid the rush.

He won't burn many teams with his feet, but his pocket awareness was good in the preseason and should improve with experience.

3. On The Run

Third-year back Damien Harris looks completely ready to take over the starting role, replacing traded back Sony Michel. J.J. Taylor is the change-of-pace back who might have his eye on James White's third-down role -- though White is back for another season.

Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson looked amazing, though most of his yards came against the second- and third-teamers in the preseason. And note: rookie backs rarely get much playing time here because they have to understand the blitz pickup to get on the field. 

Also, not to be overlooked, blocking back Jakob Johnson is back from injury and was a beast in the preseason. It looked like he missed hitting people and wanted to make up for lost time.

The Pats should lean heavily on the running game early in the year, both to control the clock and protect the young QB. Harris can do it all but they will rotate backs to keep them fresh

4. Better To Receive

Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry were the two biggest tight end prizes in free agency, and the Patriots got them both. Henry was injured in the preseason but expects to start the season playing. He and Smith move the Patriots tight ends group from dead last in the league to at least upper-third.

Given how much the Pats offense traditionally flourished with good tight end play, the addition of these two will help immensely.

At receiver, the majority of 2020 had Damiere Byrd and N'Keal Harry as the starters, so just about anything would have been an improvement. So again, they signed two big-ish names in free agency: Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

Bourne has been hurt this preseason, but Agholor looked good and returning receiver Jacobi Meyers looked excellent during the fake games. The receivers would have looked better with either Newton or Jones starting, but with Jones pulling the defense in with the tight ends, Agholor specifically should have lots of chances for big plays.

5. Oh! Line

The offensive line looks deep, physical, and well-coordinated. And you can't ask for much more than from that group.

They pushed other teams around in the preseason, running for 170 yards a game, 5.7ypc average, and 7 touchdowns. They were physical, did a great job in pass protection, and the choreography on screen passes as mostly impeccable.

6. Putting It Together

The team should protect Jones by leaning on the running game and the defense (more on that in my next post). In fact, this season might look a lot like 2001; lots of free agents, young QB, solid running game, and a fierce defense. Not that I expect the same result as 2001, but the season could look a lot like that year.

The coaches haven't had this much talent at tight end since Aaron Hernandez got arrested, so it'll be interesting to see how OC Josh McDaniels uses the two TEs. The running game has both power (Harris) and speed (Taylor), and James White will help Jones a lot with his third-down acumen and reliability.

I'm not convinced the wide receivers are going to be amazing. But they will make teams pay attention because they can hurt you if you go one-on-one all day long.

Next post: the Defense!

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

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