The Patriots are .500 and reeling after a tough loss against the Bills. One subplot of all this has been the poor offensive coordinating, and the subtle, implicit tension between Mac and the coaching staff. That tension became explicit against the Bills when Mac screamed on the Patriots sideline to “throw the [explicit] ball, the [explicit] run game sucks!”. Here, I analyze the statement in the context of the season, and the implications.
The Training Wheels Need To Come Off
There is certainly a possibility that if Mac permanently switches to a more aggressive style, something closer to what he did against Minnesota, that there will be turnovers and a poorer level of play. But what is currently happening is, at this point, unsustainable. It puts too much onus on the defense, and can’t win games against the NFL’s best.
If Mac is left to keep passing short – he had just 195 yards on 5.4 yards per attempt vs the Bills, and if the 48-yard TD to Marcus Jones is taken out, it’s just 4.2 yards – it will significantly hinder the offense. Without a recurring deep threat, defenses will scheme against checkdowns and be able to read the offense too well, and the Bills stifled the Patriots plenty on Thursday.
Mac has shown that his passes are getting less and less turnover-prone. He has had just one interception to five touchdown passes in the last five games. Against the Vikings, with a more aggressive game plan, Mac flourished, with six passes of above 20 yards, 382 yards, and two TDs to no interceptions. Nothing will guarantee that this performance will be replicated if he keeps playing like against Minnesota, but in the long term, it’s the only path to offensive success.
The Running Game Doesn’t Suck, But There’s A Time And A Place
I don’t think for a second that when Mac said that the running game sucks, he was talking about the running backs. Rhamondre Stevenson has been a fantastic back for the Patriots with over 700 yards rushing, four TDs, running at an impressive 4.6 yards per carry, and of course, his pass catching has been awesome. Damien Harris has supplemented well when Rhamondre isn’t healthy.
The issue is in the way the run game is being used and facilitated in the context of the offense as a whole. The successes that the unit does have isn’t due to the playcalling, it’s DESPITE the playcalling, and Rhamondre has had to get a large proportion of his yards after contact.
Too many of the Patriots’ plays in critical moments are running plays or run-centric play action plays for short yardage. Similar to my arguments above, this game plan simply discourages aggression, and is overly predictable. When the offensive line is losing so many battles in the trenches, going over the top to the extent possible can help spread the defense and force them to account for every option.
The overall balance of run and pass, as well as the situations in which they are used, come down to Patricia and the playcalling, and he is simply not fitting the bill.
Mac Still Isn’t Exonerated Completely
Mac having room for improvement and Patricia having room for improvement are not mutually exclusive occurrences. Mac will need to prove that he can have an increase in aggression that doesn’t result in turnover – much like he did against the Vikings. He has to develop the ability to be clutch in the fourth quarter, the ability to come back from deficits, which he has only done once in his Patriots career.
If the offense isn’t functioning with Patricia’s calls, Mac needs to try to prove that he can make audibles and take control of the Patriots’ offense. It’s a lot to expect from a second-year QB, but this is time for him to take the leap. He needs to show a willingness to make tough throws and be aggressive in big moments, moments where every instinct of his tells him to play it safe. A leap for the Patriots offense is going to need a combination of coaching evolution and evolution from Mac.
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