What’s mistaken with Patriots’ passing sport and the right way to repair it

By Henry Mckenna
FOX Sports activities AFC East Author

the New England Patriots opened the season with a drive that appeared — a minimum of at first — staggeringly environment friendly.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that Mac Jones and Matt Patricia dazzled on that opening drive. The primary seven performs went for constructive yardage, and whereas they did not have a play that went for greater than 12 yards, the Patriots earned chunk after chunk of subject. They quickly discovered themselves on Miami’s 22-yard line.

That is when it went south. Jones threw up a 50-50 cross to receiver DeVante Parker and the ball ended up within the fingers of Dolphins security Jevon Holland for an interception. That play served as a foul omen for New England’s passing assault.

“I simply form of misjudged it, so the subsequent time I do know, simply go up for it,” Parker mentioned after the sport.

Quick-forward to subsequent week in opposition to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jones threw the ball downfield to Parker. But once more: an intercept. This time, Jones was fairly clearly accountable, seeming to not see security Minkah Fitzpatrick, who fielded the cross a lot simpler than Parker might have. The receiver completed the sport with zero catches.

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Thus far this season, the Patriots have put Parker on the sphere for 109 snaps, and he nonetheless has only one nine-yard catch. Parker, who joined the crew in a commerce this offseason, has been the crew’s WR1 when it comes to snaps, however is barely on the stat sheet.

New England’s top-producing receiver, Jakobi Meyers, is second in snaps. There isn’t a query that he’s their most dependable choice, principally lining up within the slot. His utilization and manufacturing of him seem like excellent, with Meyers serving as Jones’ go-to choice, significantly on third down.

However on the skin, New England has struggled to get manufacturing out of their high exterior receiver. It has been happening for years. Return to 2020 and New England put Damiere Byrd on the sphere for essentially the most snaps. I’ve completed second on the crew in receiving with 604 yards. In 2021, Nelson Agholor was second amongst receivers in snaps (64%) regardless of lacking two video games. I’ve completed fourth on the crew in receiving yards (473).

In fact, now that Agholor’s snap share is right down to 54%, he loved his finest sport as a Patriot, with six catches for 110 yards and a landing. Agholor gained a 50-50 ball downfield — stealing away an interception from the Steelers — for a 44-yard landing.

“He acquired plenty of snaps and he is been, actually, one in every of our most constant gamers this 12 months,” Belichick mentioned of Agholor.

However we all know, after wanting on the numbers, that Agholor hasn’t gotten plenty of snaps. He is WR3, and he noticed a smaller share of snaps in Week 2 (50%) than he noticed in Week 1 (58%). In the meantime, Agholor has generated 3.8 separation yards per route, 18th-best within the NFL and finest amongst Patriots.

That is a head-scratcher, proper?

If Agholor has been some of the constant gamers, then why is not he seeing the sphere extra? Possibly the Patriots assume much less is extra. Possibly their logic is that he could not deal with the function of WR1 in 2021, so they do not really feel like placing him by that once more. They’d moderately give Parker a strive.

But when the Patriots are working with what they discovered in 2021, then they need to do not forget that Kendrick Bourne was the crew’s most explosive receiver. He’s barely taking part in. Bourne has 26 complete snaps (21%) over the primary two weeks after a tough coaching camp.

Bourne acquired onto the sphere twice within the first sport, and promptly put up a 41-yard reception in crunch time within the fourth quarter. However that was all we noticed of him. He had 24 snaps in Week 2 and managed two catches for 16 yards.

In the meantime, Lil’Jordan Humphrey acquired 26 snaps over the primary two weeks. Whereas Humphrey is a receiver on the depth chart, he was on the sphere nearly solely as a run blocker, with the Patriots dashing the ball on 23 of 26 (88%) of his snaps from him. So Humphrey is basically a blocking tight finish — and he is good at it, with a 90.9 run blocking grade on PFF, finest on the Patriots in Week 2.

However the Patriots appeared fascinated with getting much less predictable as an offense — no more predictable. They take away the fullback from their offense to attempt to keep away from signaling the run to opposing defenses. And but Humphrey is doing simply that. Moreover, if he is the third tight finish, he is taking away work from TE1 Jonnu Smith (39 snaps in Week 2) and TE2 Hunter Henry (34 snaps). That is one other oddity. These two are making $12.5 million per 12 months.

It is early within the season. New England is clearly determining who will and might do what for his or her offense. The Patriots typically spend the primary 4 weeks of the season fidgeting with their personnel and scheme to determine what they do finest. The thought is that, in the event that they experiment and lose a sport or two within the course of, they’re higher geared up to win the remaining 13 to 16 video games. It isn’t essentially time to panic. However New England is beginning to get just a few clear indicators.

Meyers is the crew’s finest and most dependable choice. He ought to stay on the sphere.

Parker is struggling within the offense and may quickly see his snaps decreased in favor of Agholor and Bourne.

New England’s tight ends are struggling and the crew may be smart to run extra 3WR formations to get their high three playmakers on the sphere: Meyers, Bourne and Agholor.

Humphrey is an efficient blocker however will immediately tip defenses to run performs.

So now what? The Patriots should determine the right way to make sense of their pass-catcher puzzle, due to course, they’ll solely have so many gamers on the sphere on the similar time.

By my estimation, New England is not getting sufficient manufacturing out of Parker, Henry, Smith or Bourne. In flip, Jones has struggled. He has accomplished 64.6% of his passes for 465 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions over two video games. However he additionally would not appear to be processing in that extremely environment friendly approach that he did on the finish of 2022. It is all associated.

The Patriots want an uptick in scoring as a result of they’re 0-5 when permitting 25 or extra factors within the Jones period. There are 10 groups within the NFL averaging 25 factors or extra per sport. New England’s protection is kind of good, permitting 17 factors per sport, eighth-best within the NFL.

If the Patriots wish to elevate Jones to the subsequent stage in his NFL profession, they want their tinkering with personnel to supply outcomes over the subsequent few weeks. Or they could discover themselves in a deep gap within the AFC East, the place the Dolphins and Buffalo Payments seem like early playoff favorites.

Previous to becoming a member of FOX Sports activities because the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years protecting the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports activities Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Observe him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.

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