Play Caller Change Hurt Patriots More Than Most Teams

Getty Images

Prior to the 2022 season, 17 NFL teams either brought in or promoted a new play caller or offensive coordinator. For the Patriots, that man was Matt Patricia, although he was not given the official title. Of those 17, four (Rams, Cardinals, Packers and 49ers) gave someone new the title of offensive coordinator, but the head coaches called plays as they had in 2021. Of the remaining 13 teams, including the Colts, who changed their play caller midseason, I studied how they performed in variety of metrics from 2021 to 2022. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they were in the bottom third of most categories. This, coupled with the eye test, makes it no surprise that New England will reportedly make reassignments on their offensive coaching staff and look to upgrade some personnel.

For this study, I looked at points per game, yards per game, yards per carry, red zone percentage, third down conversion percentage and sack percentage, which is the percent of drop backs a quarterback is sacked on. The results for the Patriots were underwhelming to say the least. The Patriots ranked eighth out of thirteen in points per game (21.2) and had the second highest drop-off from 2021 by any team, behind only the Colts. New England was also eighth in yards per game and eighth in sack percentage. For those interested in advanced metrics, the Patriots ranked 24th overall in offensive DVOA and ninth in the list of teams with new play callers.

The Patriots rushing attack did not suffer as much from the change, but it still underperformed compared to 2021. Their yards per carry only dropped .1 and the gap between them at ninth and third place among new play callers was only .3 yards per carry. However, New England ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing yards per game, which was a large drop from 2021. That is not as concerning in a vacuum, because New England ran the ball more early in 2021 with Mac Jones starting as a rookie, but it is still indicative of an offense being less efficient.

The three most glaring steps backward were third down conversion percentage, quarterback rating and red zone performance. New England ranked 10th of 13 on third down and had the second highest drop-off in conversation percentage behind only Denver. New England was 9.07 points worse on third down than in 2021. The Patriots final ranking of sixth in quarterback rating was average, but it was once again the second biggest drop-off in a metric, behind Indianapolis. The Red Zone was the worst off all, with the Patriots having the worst touchdown percentage and the biggest drop-off from 2021. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia’s new offense fell a whopping 21 percentage points in the red zone from last season. The Patriots also had the fifth most turnovers of this group, tied with the Vikings with 23.

It is also worth mentioning that the New York Giants had the second biggest increase in both red zone percentage and quarterback rating. Joe Judge, the Patriots quarterbacks coach in 2022, was the Giants head coach in 2021 and took on a large offensive role after the firing of Jason Garrett.

The Patriots offense was a major weakness for the team in 2022; their performance cost the team several wins. Had the Patriots offense maintained their level of strong play from 2021, we’d likely be getting ready for a playoff game this weekend instead of considering what changes need to be made. While no single individual is 100% responsible for the step backward the Patriots offense took, it is clear that the change in offensive coaching setup hurt the team and the development of it’s franchise quarterback. The players need to execute better than they did in 2022, but they also need to be put in better situations to succeed. Three keys to winning every week are turnovers, red zone execution and third down conversions. The Patriots were bad in all three areas. It’s not a coincidence that they ended up missing the playoffs.

The numbers do not lie. The Patriots offense had a lot of shortcomings this season. Whoever does take over as offensive coordinator will have to find ways to help this team on third down and the red zone. It will not matter who the play caller is if the offense does not improve in these two areas next season.