If the Patriots’ training camp offense was a summer blockbuster movie, it would have both a low Tomatometer and a dismal Audience Score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Critics and honest fans in attendance have agreed that the work of leading man Mac Jones and Co. on the practice fields behind Gillette Stadium has been pretty tough to watch. Too many plays where the quarterback has to hold onto the ball. Or scramble to create time. Or receivers can’t seem to get open. Or the offensive line is giving up almost immediate pressure. More often than not it’s been more like a mess than a masterpiece, really.
The results, through nearly three weeks of training camp practice, have been a new-look New England offense that doesn’t look like it’s anywhere near ready for game action.
But if you listen to Bill Belichick and Jones himself, the summer struggles of the offense may not be as wide-spread and consistently horrific as they may appear to the common observer. The issue as they seem to see it, is that the results may not necessarily be indicative of the bulk of the execution on any given rep.
“I know you're very results oriented. I get that, but there's more than just the result of the play. It's what all 22 people are doing,” Belichick explained prior to practice on Tuesday, one day after the New England offense seemed to bottom out in its summer struggles, leaving center and captain David Andrews to hold a players’-only meeting with the unit.
“If you look at the result of the play, I mean that's one thing. If you look at the 22 components of the play, 11 on each side, that's a totally different -- totally different breakdown. So there's an element of both but if you don't get the 11 things right eventually you're going to have problems. So it might look good on a particular play out here, might look bad if something different had happened on the play. If the quarterback had thrown to somebody else or if the right block had been made properly, it would've been a bad play for the defense.”
In his third meeting with the media this summer, Jones also expressed the idea that his New England offense is close to finding its way. In fact those were the first words out of his mouth to reporters.
“I think we’re close on a lot of things. It’s just that two percent that we need to fix,” Jones said.
He made the “two percent” assessment four times in his eight-minute press conference, while voicing a message that was not coincidently similar to that of his head coach.
“I care a lot about the guys around me and when I don’t produce, or we don’t produce together, sometimes it’s a little frustrating for whatever reason,” Jones said of the frustration he’s shown and voiced in snippets at time this summer. “It takes 11 people and if one guy doesn’t do his job, me included, then the play doesn’t work. So, we’re trying to get 11 people to do it right and do it right more consistently.”
Jones is the leader of the offense, that’s clear. He’s taken ownership of it. He’s the present and future of the quarterback position, which means he’s the present and the future of the New England organization in many ways. He also has just one year of starting experience under his NFL belt.
That after starting for just one year at Alabama. Both of those seasons came with much success and limited adversity. He led the Tide to a national title and the Patriots back to the playoffs after a one-year post-Brady drought.
This, though, is different it seems.
“I’m going to figure it out. I always have, and I always will,” Jones said, sounding like the proven veteran that he really isn’t. “At the end of the day, you’re going to have your ups and downs with anything new. But, I’ve learned a lot of different systems, and the guys around me have, too. We know what football looks like. We know what a good play looks like, and the schematics behind it. It’s not just the result, it’s the process of how it looks. It just needs to be more consistent, and we all trust in each other at the end of the day. When I walk onto the field and there’s ten people that look into my eyes, I know that they’re going to trust me to do the right thing on gameday.”
“There's a lot of things that aren't good that are pretty close to being good and if we just do one thing, or one little thing a little bit better, it will make a big difference in the outcome of the play,” Belichick reiterated.
Are the Patriots close to being a good, productive, consistent offense this summer, even just in practice or preseason action? Belichick and Jones seem to think so.
But the unit’s results on the field, they’ve spoken for themselves so far. They aren’t good.
If we believe our eyes, the unit seems to have a long way to go. If we believe what the coach and quarterback are telling (selling?) us, success is just around the corner.
The NFL is a results oriented business. The scoreboard tells the story.
Whatever else is going on, the results for the New England offense need to start matching the hope that the coach and quarterback are voicing for the unit. Thursday night’s preseason opener against the lowly Giants at Gillette Stadium would be a good time to being that process.