One sign the Patriots' offense might not change as much as you think in 2022


Last Friday's preseason finale did nothing to assuage fears about the Patriots' offensive struggles this summer among fans and observers.

The team's four Mac Jones-led drives yielded just three points and featured one of the worst interceptions the quarterback has thrown as a pro -- yes, we know it's only preseason. It was still horrid.

Still, Jones did show some signs of life on his fourth drive of the game, completing three passes for first downs. Similarly, his final possession in Preseason Week 2 against the Panthers had some redeeming plays after a rough start, including his 45-yard deep ball to Nelson Agholor.

Arguably a bigger concern is the Patriots' inability to consistently run the football -- a disturbing trend that feels like a fundamental violation of the team's nature. In particular, the outside zone runs they've been spamming throughout spring and summer practices don't seem to be getting more effective with time.

Such plays are a large part of the Sean McVay-style wrinkles the team is adding to its arsenal in an attempt to remake the post-Josh McDaniels offense. They also take a notoriously long time to master, making their ineffectiveness unsurprising at this point.

So when will the Patriots start getting back to their bread-and-butter gap and power plays, which seem to instantly jumpstart the running game in practice or game situations? You might not need to wait as long as you think.

Through three preseason games, the Patriots are still running gap run plays for their backs more often than zone runs in total, via Pro Football Focus. New England has run gap or power on 53 percent of their snaps (30 "gap" vs. 27 "zone"), which is massively different than their gap-heavy calls from the 2021 preseason (48 of 59 runs; 81 percent) or regular season (292 of 369; 79 percent).

Though the sample sizes are small and must be taken with a grain of salt, it's worth noting every Patriots running back aside from Pierre Strong Jr. has run more charted gap runs than zones this preseason.

So while there's a hint of more balance in their ground game, they're still willing to use the plays they know how to run. The question becomes whether or not they're ready to lean all the way back to gap schemes if they don't like their zone game.

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That said, the Patriots' issue might not be as much about gap vs. zone as it is about rushing direction -- while outside zones haven't consistently worked, the inside zone game has looked markedly more effective both under center and out of shotgun in practice and games. Maybe it's just a matter of the offensive line being better built to run between the hashes than they are outside.

The Patriots have a lot of questions to answer over the next two weeks in the run-up to Week 1 against Miami. Also, you can bet the offense will run whatever it takes to win on a given week, even if it means running power and crack-toss every play.

But if their play calls in game action can suggest anything about the offensive game plan, it's that they might not overwhelmingly lean on one type of run versus another or jettison the wide-zone scheme so soon just because it's not working at the moment.

Perhaps the answer to getting the offense going is somewhere in the middle -- literally. In any case, the Patriots certainly haven't forgotten how to do what they do best.