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The Josh McDaniels experiment in Las Vegas has been a revelation in the worst way possible. Not only has his team looked like a disaster so far in 2022, he has Derek Carr, who threw for nearly 5,000 yards last season and got the Raiders into the playoffs, on pace for his worst statistical season since 2017.
What gives? Wasn’t McDaniels supposed to have that offense, which features playmakers like Davante Adams, Darren Waller and Hunter Renfrow, looking like one of the NFL’s best?
Former NFL quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan suggests it’s not quite that simple.
During a live stream of his popular “The QB School” channel on YouTube, O’Sullivan, who spent time on the Patriots’ practice squad back in 2006, gave some insight into how different McDaniels’ offense is compared to others he’d been in after being drafted in 2002 and how difficult it can be to pick up for an offense.
“I’m sure Josh’s offense has evolved since well over a decade ago that I was in what they were doing in New England – that verse of the West Coast, significantly different,” O’Sullivan said. “I really enjoyed it because it was just refreshing to me. I’d been in the West Coast for so long up until that point that it was nice to see how other people did it.
“But to me, what some things in the West Coast feel like a little bit more intuitive even though they’re jargon-heavy, the McDaniels stuff for me felt foreign and almost counterintuitive as far as how they were doing certain things and reads and stems of the receivers and expectations. So I could see how it would come across as disjointed in play. [Carr] would be the only one that would really tell you if that’s how he feels, but it just feels like things are harder than he’s used to them being.”
Those comments might also be a bit informative about what’s going on with the New England Patriots’ confusing offensive plan this season as well as some of the failed experiments this team has had recently.
For one thing, it’s interesting to see Carr’s struggles as a quarterback playing in McDaniels’ system for the first time and think back to Cam Newton’s battle to pick up the scheme in his year in New England. Rather than viewing that as a knock on Newton’s intelligence (which some made it), perhaps it just comes with operating this particular scheme, especially as a veteran quarterback who is more used to more “intuitive” offenses.
Also, maybe it’s another caveat about McDaniels’ way of doing things, which seems to only work like gangbusters when he’s coaching in Foxborough. Tom Brady, of course, spent many years in McDaniels’ offense and somewhat co-constructed it, taking some elements with him to Tampa Bay and implementing them in 2020 when the Buccaneers’ offense was struggling in his first year.
Mac Jones, meanwhile, came into the league with McDaniels’ system has his only template and picked up quickly. But if that offense is as unique as it sounds, perhaps it makes more sense in hindsight why the Patriots’ quest to “simply” things actually made things more complicated for Jones, who had to unlearn his past experience with McDaniels.
Though it’s hard to know how much of that offensive structure still exists, O’Sullivan’s testimony might suggest the Patriots underestimated how much of a challenge implementing a new offensive system would be under Patricia and calls into question their plan for Jones that much more.
Aside from that, it’s also well-documented how hard this offense has been for players to pick up and the limitations it has put on who the team could draft on that side of the ball over the years. To then ask receivers and offensive linemen to change their routes and blocking communication suddenly in one off-season feels like quite a task.
Still, with nine games under their belt in 2022, the excuses are just about out for the Patriots’ offense to start looking more competent. Any hope they have of making the playoffs this season depends on that. (The Raiders, on the other hand, are toast this year unless they miraculously won out.)
But going forward, it’s going to be interesting to see how much the specter of McDaniels lingers over the Patriots’ offense and if he’s destined to return to lead this unit once again. But even if he did, maybe it wouldn't go as well as we assume.