I’m no Boy Scout, but I’m pretty sure you can’t have a fire without a spark.
The same kinda holds true for NFL offenses.
Just like your backyard fire pit is nothing but a pile of wood burning potential without ignition, a bunch of complementary weapons are nothing but a pile of players without someone or something to ignite spark them into becoming an offensive attack of actual playmaking.
Right now, Bill O’Brien’s Patriots are a pile of sticks that needs to find a way to become a blaze sooner rather than later.
Through three games the 2023 New England offense has been…better? It’s been fine in some ways. Looking at the numbers is ranks in the middle of the NFL pack in total offense (13th), rushing (14th) and passing (11th). It’s been pretty good on third down (13th) and really good when it finds a way to actually get into the red zone (6th).
But it hasn’t scored enough points (26th) or really done enough to win football games in what is a 1-2 start to the fresh, new fall season.
Does the offense look and feel better under O’Brien’s leadership? Hell yeah. Mac Jones certainly appears more comfortable and poised.
The scheme is more diverse and functional and competent.
That’s all great and dandy, but the consistent production, the necessary points and the plays to be made with the game on the line just haven’t been there. And that’s the chaffing rub.
So with three games in the books – nearly 20 percent of an NFL season – who or what is going to be the spark that turns the Patriots offensive from acceptable to a more successful, productive and, ideally, winning unit?
The first place to look might be O’Brien, who was brought in to do big things with his big reputation Matt Patricia’s dysfunctional ineptitude.
After all, if Mike McDaniel can scheme 70 points in Miami, why can’t O’Brien? Well, it might have something to do with speed and talent at the skill positions, but more on that in a bit.
Maybe it’s the offensive line. Now that the David Andrews-led group is healthy and actually on the field together maybe it can lead the way to a more consistent rushing attack that could jumpstart the offense as a whole. Maybe.
Could it be that rushing attack that needs to stir the production pot? Certainly Rhamondre Stevenson should be counted on for more than 2.9 yards per carry and veteran Ezekiel Elliott already injected some necessary rotational life in that area in last Sunday’s win over the Jets. It’s an optimistic option as the opposing defensive fronts New England faces become a little less stout in the coming weeks.
By nature of the position, Jones very much needs to be looked to for more. The quarterback is the most important position in sports, as Robert Kraft has so openly reminded us. While he’s third in the league in attempts and completions, Jones’ completion percentage (20th) leaves a lot to be desired. Sure quarterbacks are often a product of the guys around them, but the good ones are a rising tide to lift the entire offense. Jones definitely hasn’t done that to date.
That brings us to the weapons on the passing game, an area of likely the most disappointment. As Gisele so famously told us back in the Super Bowl, wedded bliss glory days, a quarterback cannot throw the ball and catch it too! A quick look at the stats for Jones’ targets shows about as lackluster a return on passing game investments as one could expect.
Kendrick Bourne gave a little jolt to the group in Week 1 with a couple touchdowns, but is averaging less than 10 yards per catch and has needed 25 targets to get his team-best 14 receptions. That’s not exactly efficiency.
Heck the only Patriots averaging better than 10 yards per reception right now are rookie Demario Douglas (10.6) and third blocking tight end Pharaoh Brown, who buoyed Sunday’s win with his 58-yard catch-and-run TD that caught Jets sleeping in the secondary.
The biggest prize of the Matt Groh spending this offseason, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is by far the biggest disappointment on the offense.
He has just 10 catches on 16 targets for 66 yards through three games. He’s 60th in league in targets, 68th in catches, 119th in yards and 130th in yards per reception.
Even Bill Belichick, who rarely admits anything in the heat of the moment, knows the Patriots need more plays, more big plays from the passing game. “We’ve got to hit them, we’ve got to throw them and we need more production out of the deep balls,” Belichick said this week.
That’s just one of the many areas of the offense that needs to be better, to be more.
Three weeks into the season the Patriots’ offense has lots of questions. And probably plenty of potential answers, too. Like a big ol’ pile of sticks with the potential to be a blazing fire.
If only they can find that requisite spark.
Thank you to MacFarlane Energy, a Mitsubishi Diamond Elite contractor, and the home heating oil and HVAC company that greater Boston and Cape Cod depend on at MacFarlaneEnergy.com.