Friday, December 2 2022

By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer

The New England Patriots‘ offense looked wholly out of order during the team’s 20-7 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. 

Not only did Mac Jones & Co. manage just one touchdown, but the offense also allowed a TD, with safety Brandon Jones logging a strip sack which outside linebacker Melvin Ingram returned for a scoop-and-score. 

That play alone negated all of New England’s offensive scoring output.

So there’s plenty of room for improvement in New England. That also goes for the defense, which generated zero takeaways. The Patriots came up short on a number of crucial, deciding plays that could have gone either way. But the nature of good football teams is that they make those plays. 

So here are eight Patriots who underperformed but have the potential to turn the Patriots into winners.

Matt Patricia

It is looking more and more like Patricia is the de-facto offensive coordinator, under Bill Belichick’s close oversight and support from quarterbacks coach Joe Judge. Those three will say it’s a team effort but, in the past, the Patriots have given one coach more power than the others to coordinate the unit — even if he doesn’t have coordinator in the job title. 

Patricia is calling plays, so he’s coordinating the offense — to some degree.

So here’s where Patricia seemed to let his unit down in Week 1. Anytime an offensive game plan produces seven points, there’s a problem. We can start there. The oddest thing was that the unit was terrific on its first drive — until Mac Jones decided to test Xavien Howard, who remains one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, with a target in the end zone. Howard tipped the ball into the air for a Jevon Holland interception. 

Bill Belichick, Patriots suffer tough loss in Week 1

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor and LeSean McCoy discuss the Miami Dolphins’ Week 1 win over Bill Belichick and the Patriots.

That mistake was enough to outweigh the impressive plays that came before it. And we’ll analyze that play more when we get to Jones, who is also on this list. But I think the Patriots can look at that drive and feel like it was a great place for them to start in terms of what worked: short passes and inside zone runs.

The Patriots barely used elements of their new outside zone scheme. They barely ran play-action. Those are key elements of the Kyle Shanahan scheme. It doesn’t seem like the Patriots will be using it much — at least not yet. And that’s a bit of a surprise. They spent training camp working on it, but without much progress. 

So in some ways, they’re smart not to hammer something that isn’t working. But now they’re left to execute the elements of the offense that might have collected some rust during the days they drilled the Shanahan elements. And Jones, Trent Brown and others certainly looked rusty. So there’s the question of whether they wasted time trying to incorporate new parts to this offense.

And then there’s the question of personnel usage. Ty Montgomery has not played up to snuff compared to his predecessors as a third-down back (James White, Shane Vereen, Kevin Faulk). Montgomery rushed twice (both on crucial third downs) and lost two yards. He also had three catches for five yards and a touchdown. It’s fair to wonder whether Rhamondre Stevenson might be more productive. And we’ll see just that, because unfortunately for Montgomery, he’s headed to IR.

Then there’s the matter of the player Patricia did not use…

Kendrick Bourne

Bourne actually played great in the game. He received two snaps and converted one into a 41-yard catch. Considering the offense needed more explosive plays — and that’s what Bourne provided in 2021 — it’s easy to wonder why he didn’t play more. 

Why did the Patriots wait until there were six minutes left in the game to play Bourne? Especially when Nelson Agholor, who was playing WR3, was not effective?

After the game, Bourne was asked whether something happen to keep him off the field.

“Nothing,” he said. “Just not giving the coaches what they want, what they need to see.”

Well, they saw this, right?

To be fair, Bourne was not productive in training camp, with 11 consecutive days of practice in which he logged one catch or fewer in team drills. He didn’t earn a prominent role for Week 1, in part due to that low production and in part as a punishment for a lack of buy-in and late attendance to a meeting, per reports. But if the Patriots look back at what he did last season (55 catches for 800 yards and five touchdowns), they’d see he had substantially better chemistry with Jones than Agholor did. And while the team traded a third-round pick for DeVante Parker, he managed just one catch for nine yards. 

Clearly, Bourne deserves a higher spot on the depth chart.

Yes, he needs to play better at practice. But the Patriots also need to stop playing prisoner to the moment and give him substantially more game opportunities. Because he has proven, going back to 2021, that he deserves them.

Mac Jones

I didn’t love Jones’ decision-making in this game, particularly at crucial moments. 

Jones threw at Howard three times, one of which never saw the stat sheet because Howard committed an illegal contact penalty. Jones targeted Howard in the end zone, which — as mentioned earlier — resulted in an interception.

Jones later targeted Howard for a six-yard gain. And then, finally, Jones went after Howard on a fourth-and-1. Howard committed a penalty. Why go after the best cornerback on the field for 1) a touchdown and 2) a fourth-down conversion (even if the outcome was positive)? Yes, the fourth down resulted in an illegal contact penalty, but the Patriots were lucky to get it. It seemed like a makeup call after Howard held Parker on the pass breakup in the end zone.

Jones also didn’t attack the Dolphins’ less-experienced cornerbacks, Keion Crossen and Kader Kohou. They faced just two targets apiece and allowed one catch.

Jones was 2-of-5 with an interception on passes that traveled more than 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. He attempted just nine of his 30 passes past the 10 yard line. He needs to push the ball downfield more often — but more importantly, attack that part of the field with fewer mistakes. (Bourne should help with that.)

“I hope [Bourne] can contribute more, and he will, and his time will come,” Jones said Monday. “Like I always say, the plays will come, don’t chase them. He’ll get a chance and when he does, I have confidence in him. He’s a great route runner, great competitor. He’s just got to do what he’s doing and continue to see his role increase.”

Trent Brown

He appeared to have a part in allowing both of the Patriots’ sacks. He missed Brandon Jones blitzing off the edge on the play that ended in a strip-six. Untouched, Brandon Jones was free to tee up Mac Jones from the blindside. The quarterback clearly didn’t feel or see the sack coming.

Brown also was also near the rusher for the other sack — though it’s less clear if he was to blame. Brown took on Ingram while defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah rushed unblocked up the middle. The breakdown was a product of one of two things: Either Brown was supposed to block Ogbah and leave Ingram for running back Damien Harris, or Brown did the right thing by blocking Ingram, and guard Cole Strange should have take on Ogbah. Either way, there was a breakdown.

It’s tough for Brown that his positional coach, Patricia, has so much other stuff on his plate. It’s also tough that he signed a contract this offseason likely thinking he’d play right tackle but is now starting on the left side. Perhaps that’s why he seemed particularly frustrated when speaking to the media this week. He didn’t have a lot to say.

If he helps the offensive line cut down on those costly mistakes — it didn’t make many mistakes, but the ones it made were big ones — the offense will perform at a higher level. 

“We just have to eliminate the really bad things,” Jones said.

Christian Barmore

The defensive tackle looked like the breakout player of training camp, with dominant performances from day to day. And yet he disappeared in Week 1, with no recorded stats. You’d have to go to advanced statistics to track his contributions: one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. He played 33 snaps, 55% of the defensive total.

Barmore needs to play better and needs to produce more.

Josh Uche

The 2020 second-round pick played just 17 snaps. He remains a situational pass-rusher — and he doesn’t even seem to be the Patriots’ only option in that role. He and Jahlani Tavai were all working in rotational roles. 

At this point, Uche needs to be a bigger part of this defense. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect him to elevate his game much more, now that he’s in year three of his career. But the Patriots have whiffed on their high draft picks in recent years. Uche is hardly a bust, but he also hasn’t turned into the player they need.

He finished with three pressures, and on one of them, Tua Tagovailoa juked Uche onto his butt. Uche needs to get on the field more and needs to be a playmaker while he’s on it.

Jack Jones

The rookie cornerback nearly had an interception in his NFL debut. Nearly. Alas, Tyreek Hill is very good at catching the football, even if that involves snatching the ball away from a cornerback like Jones. On a 50-50 ball in the second quarter, Hill turned a Jones’ almost-interception into a 26-yard pickup.

He logged just nine coverage snaps but was targeted twice and that was the only catch he allowed. Unlike Mac Jones against the Dolphins’ young corners, Tagovailoa seemed acutely aware of when Jack Jones was on the field. And Tagovailoa went after the youngster on those snaps. That’s how it goes. 

But Jones seems like a crucial member of this cornerback rotation that, frankly, was not super impressive against the Dolphins. If Jones can elevate the quality of his play to CB2-level — which I think is very possible given his college film — then he will be a success.

Kyle Dugger

No play impacted the game more than Jaylen Waddle‘s 42-yard touchdown on fourth down at the end of the second quarter. Waddle got separation from cornerback Jalen Mills and nabbed a ball over the middle. Mills allowed the first down. Dugger allowed the touchdown. 

Though he is one of the team’s fiercest tacklers, he whiffed on this particular play and allowed Waddle to storm downfield for the TD, which put Miami up 17-0.

“I think overall Kyle’s one of our better and stronger tacklers,” Belichick said on Monday. “Anybody that plays an NFL game is going to have plays that they would like to have back or do a little bit differently. On the touchdown, there were a couple things that could have happened better on that play.”

For that one play, Dugger was not a safety — he was a liability. 

Henry McKenna covers the AFC East for FOX Sports. He previously spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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