After three weeks of training camp, and with Thursday night’s 23-21 loss to the Giants in the preseason opener in the books, the questions surrounding the Patriots new-look offense are more significant than ever.
Following almost nothing but first-unit struggles on the practice fields of Foxborough this summer, we learned nothing new at all about Mac Jones and the New England offense at Gillette Stadium because almost nobody who’ll be at the center of that unit even took the field against New York.
And all those offseason concerns about who’ll be calling plays for Jones & Co. this fall with Josh McDaniels having jumped ship? Still concerning, maybe even more so after Matt Patricia and Joe Judge seemingly split the duties for an attack led by backup Brian Hoyer for a couple series before he gave way to rookie Bailey Zappe for the reminder of the rather unfulfilling night.
But don’t expect Bill Belichick to acknowledge the questions, concerns and curiosities of his work in progress offense right now that seemingly needs a lot more work and has shown little progress this summer.
Nope, Belichick sounded like a strange combination of Bobby McFerrin, South Park’s Officer Barbrady and former Philadelphia 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie when he took to the mic for his first awkward postgame press conference of the new season.
“Yeah, don't worry about that. We'll work it out,” Belichick responded when asked if he knows who’ll call offensive plays once the regular season arrives in less than a month in Miami. “We're going through a process. Just like everything else on this team.”
Like so many aspects of his team, it’s a process that doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense right now, at least not to objective outsiders.
How is splitting the play-calling between two guys who’ve never done the job before a sign of anything but uncertainty in the process?
More importantly, though, is the question of why Jones and an offense that feels like it could use every single rep it can get didn’t get a single rep of work against the Giants?
Sure, the Patriots have a couple weeks of joint practices on the horizon against the Panthers and Raiders, workouts that Belichick has clearly put a lot of stock in over the years. But full-speed, whistle-to-whistle game reps still have value when you have something to prove.
And let’s be clear, Jones and the offense have plenty to prove.
Unless, of course, the players aren’t ready for those reps. Is it actually possible Belichick kept his frontline players on the sideline to protect them from a situation they may not yet be prepared for even after an offseason of OTA action and weeks of training camp work? That seems both unbelievably bizarre and bizarrely believable all at once.
Why didn’t either Patricia or Judge handle the totality of the play-calling duties against the Giants, logging potentially critical developmental reps in an unfamiliar role? It’s a fair and reasonable question.
Why didn’t a second-year quarterback and his developing new offense garner at least a few game reps as he and his unit work through the frustrations of figuring things out this summer? It’s a fair and reasonable question.
“We did a lot of things in this game that are going to be beneficial in the long run, whether it was on the coaching staff, playing time, playing positions, players that played and so forth. That's all part of the process,” Belichick explained.
Belichick didn’t go so far as to steal Hinkie’s famously fruitless slogan from when he was trying to build an NBA title team in Philly – and Belichick’s past accomplishments obviously bring more cache to his confident, calm approach to his team’s offensive process that’s concerning at this point -- but it certainly got too close for competitive comfort to a directive for us all to indeed “trust the process.”
Sorry coach, it’s impossible not to question what’s going on with your offense right now, both in terms of who’s calling the plays and how those plays will be executed on the field when meaningful action begins, a test that draws nearer by the dwindling day.
With all due respect coach, it’s impossible not to “worry” about the new-look New England offense these days. We’ve seen no reason to trust the process that Jones and the unit are going through and nothing we saw in Thursday night’s preseason opener did anything to change that, either on the field or on the sidelines.