Perry: Would Patriots bail on new offense? Belichick is open to change originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
FOXBORO -- The only schematic philosophy to which Bill Belichick has been married over the course of his tenure with the Patriots is not to be married to any one system or structure or base concept.
We've seen him go from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 and back. We've seen him deploy more man coverages than the vast majority of the league for long stretches, but during the first iteration of the Patriots dynasty, there were years when he leaned on Cover 2 zone. He used more zone last season than he had in years.
Offensively he's overseen units heavy on "regular" personnel groupings with two backs. He watched his spread attack set records in 2007. In 2010 he drafted two tight ends and built an offense off their unique abilities. In 2018, he encouraged Josh McDaniels to turn back the clock and use more of fullback James Develin, and that group ended up winning a Super Bowl.
There are coaches who are tethered to certain on-the-field methods. But when Belichick mutters into a microphone he'll do what he thinks is "best for the football team," that is his offensive, defensive and special teams philosophy reduced to their simplest terms.
That approach could help explain why he’d be willing to depart from the “streamlined” offense his team has taken into its preparations for the 2022 season. Monday was a discombobulated struggle for that side of the ball, and at some point Belichick may determine he needs to pull the plug on that which simply isn’t working. There haven’t been many signs of progress for that unit since the second day of camp.
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Asked when he’d be open to shifting gears from whatever identity he’d envisioned for his team going into the season, Belichick said that could happen any time.
“In camp, in preseason, during the season, mid-season, you see things that are going well, you try to figure out a way to exploit that more or do more of it," he said. "You see things that aren’t going well, you either figure out a way to improve it or get rid of it and move onto something else that’s more productive.
"You have a couple different options there. You just have to decide which one you feel is the right one. If you’re spending time on something that’s not productive, then maybe you need to change it or find something else. It’s just not efficient."
But what about all that time lost, he was asked? Does the energy expended trying to get something to work make it more difficult to accept the fact that it may never find its footing?
"That’s part of it," he said. "Like everything, it’s not going to work out perfectly, and again, we have a number of new players in certain positions, and we’ll have to see how they adapt, and find out what things they’re good at and what things we need to do less of and what things we need to do more of. I think we’re finding that out, certainly with the rookies and younger players, but also with some other players we’ve added to the team.
"That’s the process. Sometimes it takes a while, but ultimately you have to make that judgement, and sometimes you make it sooner rather than later.
"I’m not really worried too much about all that right now. We have a lot of balls in the air. We’re trying to get ready for the Giants game, we’re trying to evaluate players, we’re trying to work against each other so we can get high-quality work rather than just run the plays from another team. So, there’s a lot of things going on there that will all come together in some kind of jigsaw puzzle. It’s not just one thing."
Unfortunately for Belichick, the issues facing his offense are also multiple.
The offensive line seems to be the primary culprit on the vast majority of imploded plays. But Mac Jones and his pass catchers have often not been on the same page. A back-shoulder pass to Hunter Henry on Monday sailed clear out of bounds while Henry sprinted up the field expecting a deep shot. A late slant to Tyquan Thornton was nearly picked by Jonathan Jones. A fade was picked by Jalen Mills when Kendrick Bourne didn’t even attempt to elevate for the 50-50 ball.
Meanwhile, the outside zone running scheme -- with play-action passes built off of those looks -- that seems to be at the center of the “streamlined” attack couldn’t get off the ground Monday and really hasn’t all camp.
Damien Harris was stuffed on an early outside zone run. Soon thereafter, Jones chucked a pass out of bounds off of a similar action. Rhamondre Stevenson tried a outside zone (or “stretch” or “wide zone”) run later and was promptly bottled up with nowhere to go. Those plays were mostly shelved the remainder of the practice.
Frustration is mounting. When Jones was picked by Joejuan Williams in a one-on-one period, he threw his hands up in exasperation. When Jones threw incomplete to Harris on a checkdown late in the workout, he spiked it into the turf. It bounced near Harris, and Harris punched it away. Justin Herron stomped up and down and punched the air when he was heated by Matt Judon for a “sack.” Bourne appeared to get down on himself after two drops in the one-on-one drill early in practice.
After the session, David Andrews pulled the offense aside and spoke to the group for an extended period after another day when that side of the ball had taken a definitive "L" from their defensive teammates.
At some point, Belichick will have to determine if he’s having that ram its head into a wall with a scheme that doesn’t suit it. At some point, Belichick will have to determine if the players are still bought in on the offensive plan. At some point, he may have to make a change.
The only question is when will he feel he’s seen enough? More practices like Monday’s could encourage him to alter course sooner rather than later.