Finally, some actual adult supervision for the Patriots offense. That’s what the Patriots got in bringing back Bill O’Brien for a second stint as offensive coordinator. He’s an experienced offensive architect who can put the train that Matt Patricia and Joe Judge derailed back on the tracks.
Just hire the best guy for the job instead of fabricating jobs for your unqualified friends. What a novel concept.
The Patriots got their man and got a vital offseason off to an auspicious start. O’Brien’s hire is a clear rebuke of coach Bill Belichick’s foolhardy plan to install his offensively inexperienced buddies this past season. That move was an abject disaster. It left the Patriots pressed against the playoff glass and stunted the development of quarterback Mac Jones. A proven play-caller, O’Brien, who called plays for the Patriots from 2009-11, is here to remedy those issues.
If you needed any additional confirmation that this offseason is being brought to you by the Krafts, O’Brien’s hiring is it. When Belichick and Tom Brady were engaged in their coach/QB Cold War, O’Brien was quietly explored as a fallback option if Belichick decided to take his ball and head home.
This will get spun as a collaborative choice, but O’Brien was ownership’s top choice all along. He’s also Belichick insurance. The Patriots are now positioned so that if Belichick walked away, they could turn over the team to some combination of defensive assistant Jerod Mayo and O’Brien.
We could spend days delving into all the desultory numbers the Patriots offense produced this past season. The ones that stick out the most are 26th in total offense (the second-worst ever for a Belichick-coached Patriots team), 27th in third-down conversion rate (34.9), and last in red-zone touchdown percentage (42.2).
But worse than the actual numbers was how it felt. The Patriots looked like an offense being coached by a former defensive coordinator and a former special teams coach, despite Belichick’s claim last March that “a good coach is a good coach.”
It was like saying a driver is a driver and expecting an MBTA bus driver to pilot a Formula 1 race car.
The “attack” lacked imagination, pre-snap motion, and play-action. Players carped about the revamped offense all season. The offense went from protean to prosaic.
It all came to a head after a prime-time loss to the Bills in Foxborough, where Jones was seen barking at Patricia on the sideline. Then in a restive locker room, wideout Kendrick Bourne said, “We need to scheme it up better.”
O’Brien should be able to do that. Back in 2009, he took over as de facto Patriots offensive coordinator when Josh McDaniels left to coach the Denver Broncos. In the three years he coordinated the Patriots offense, finally gaining the official title in 2011, they finished third, eighth, and second in total offense. They were sixth, first, and third in points per game.
Of course, those Billy O offenses had Tom Brady. We’ve learned that Brady is like the coaching equivalent of a side-view mirror. He may make objects appear closer to brilliance than they really are.
The tempestuous O’Brien, nicknamed “Teapot” for his propensity to reach a boiling point with Brady, had solid offenses in six-plus seasons as head coach of the Texans, especially once Deshaun Watson arrived. But nothing as potent as what he had with Brady, who won an MVP under O’Brien in 2010 and made the Super Bowl in 2011, throwing for 5,235 yards, his most-ever in a 16-game regular season.
Still, in his time in Houston, the 53-year-old Massachusetts native wrung enough out of Brian Hoyer and Brock Osweiler to make the playoffs.
Now, his most important job will be reconstructing the game and the confidence of Jones, who got thrown into reverse after a stellar rookie season.
How much of Mac’s woes were coaching and how much was related to his limitations? Determining that is the most important task for O’Brien. This past season, Jones had a lower passer rating (84.8) than Justin Fields and tied Matt Ryan for the fewest touchdown passes (14) of any QB who threw double-digit interceptions; Mac had 11 picks.
There’s a connection between O’Brien, who spent the last two seasons working for certified FOB (Friend of Belichick) Nick Saban as Alabama offensive coordinator, and Jones. When Jones was the outgoing Crimson Tide QB in 2021, he helped give O’Brien a crash course in the ‘Bama offense, which Saban has decreed will not change even if the coordinator does.
O’Brien has a background in both the Patriots-style offense that Jones excelled in as a rookie and the concepts he flourished in at Alabama. The latter the Patriots relayed to him before last season they would try to incorporate.
The Patriots hope that O’Brien can do for Jones what offensive–oriented new head coaches did for Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville and Daniel Jones with the Giants. Lawrence and Jones blossomed under Doug Pederson and Brian Daboll, respectively, and won playoff games.
Maximizing quarterback play is essential to success in the NFL. It is an offense-oriented league. Just look at the conference championships. All four participants ranked in the top eight in total offense.
Since Jones, the Patriots are 0-12 when opponents score 25 points or more. That’s a big reason why the jury remains out on him as the answer under center.
If the Patriots want to go a more tried-and-true route at QB, then O’Brien is an asset there as well. Several NFL teams believed getting O’Brien on board would increase their chance of coaxing Brady aboard.
If Brady really wants to work with O’Brien that badly, he must return to Fort Foxborough. O’Brien takes a firmly closed door and opens it just a tiny crack if the Krafts are interested.
Is Brady coming back here? The odds are overwhelmingly against it. But those odds get better with O’Brien.
Regardless of who the quarterback is in 2023 — Jones, fan favorite Bailey Zappe, or a proven veteran — the offense should no longer be such an obstacle to the team’s success with O’Brien coming back to run it.
Score one for the Patriots. We should hear that more next season.