FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Quick-hit thoughts and notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Patricia’s fit: The first domino in Bill Belichick’s plans to shape his offensive coaching staff after coordinator Josh McDaniels’ departure fell last week with the hiring of Joe Judge.
Could a second domino include senior football adviser Matt Patricia?
Few, if any, truly know what Belichick is thinking. But the possibility of Patricia joining the offensive staff in some capacity has come up in conversations with smart NFL personnel projecting Belichick’s next move, and the thinking goes like this:
With the Patriots set to retain the core of their existing defensive staff, but losing elite institutional brainpower/knowledge on offense without McDaniels and others, Belichick might view some combination of Patricia and Judge as his best option to spearhead the offensive transition.
• How did the Rams come back? »
• Cooper Kupp saved the Rams »
• All-in approach pays off for Rams »
• Rams top Bengals after OBJ exits »
• Bengals’ rebuild not yet complete »
• Full playoff schedule » | More content »
The public perception of Patricia and Judge might not be high after their stints as head coaches with the Lions and Giants, respectively, but Belichick’s respect for their coaching acumen as assistants, how they fit in the Patriots’ culture and his trust in them is well documented.
Such an approach, if Belichick ultimately moves in that direction, would come with risk.
Patricia’s last extended time on offense came in 2004-05 when he was offensive assistant/assistant O-line coach in New England. And Judge has just one year as an offensive assistant on his résumé, in 2019 as Patriots wide receivers coach. Neither has called offensive plays in the NFL.
Meanwhile, quarterback Mac Jones enters his second season, which Belichick often cites as the year — for all players — in which the biggest leap is made.
Belichick isn’t one to be rushed into decisions, or assign job titles before he has to. But as coaches are scheduled to return to the office after a few weeks off, creating some more clarity on Patricia’s 2022 role makes sense given the turnover. Along with McDaniels, the Patriots are losing receivers coach Mick Lombardi, offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo and quality control/quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree — not to mention the expected retirement of running backs coach Ivan Fears.
When Patricia returned to the team last year, his office was with the personnel staff and his work included everything from contracts to football X’s and O’s. One option is to keep him there and have him assist in the transition after the departure of director of player personnel Dave Ziegler, who was hired as Raiders general manager.
However, a move to more of a pure coaching role on offense is a scenario that bears watching — especially with so many offensive coaches moving on.
2. Wolf-Groh combo: Belichick didn’t attend the Senior Bowl last week, and I’m told it was scouting consultant Eliot Wolf and national scout Matt Groh who led the Patriots contingent, which also included a group of younger scouts. Belichick has decisions to make with how the personnel department is structured after Ziegler’s departure, and the initial steps at the Senior Bowl had the Wolf-Groh combination leading the way.
3. Troy’s time: The departure of Lombardi, who handled the team’s red zone plans last offseason, opens the door for Troy Brown to elevate from assistant receivers coach to the full-time role. With the NFL’s minority hiring in the spotlight, Brown is a potential future coordinator-type candidate in that pipeline. As for how the Patriots might replace Bricillo, his assistant Billy Yates could rise into the top offensive line job. Yates has a link to Patricia from having coached under him in Detroit, so if Patricia does take on more of an offensive coaching role in 2022, that connection could be deemed a positive.
4. Mayo’s take: Patriots inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo was insightful in his media rounds at the Super Bowl, particularly when it comes to his view on the NFL’s minority hiring and his affinity for coaching in New England. As for the Patriots’ defense, he pointed out that the unit finished third in the NFL in fewest points allowed, and seventh in yards allowed. Those are facts, but context also seems important. How did that defense look when it counted most — in the season finale against the Dolphins and twice against the high-powered Bills? While the overall rankings can’t be disputed, the greater focus seems like it should be on why the unit regressed at the end of the year.
5. Coaching payroll: When Patricia was hired as head coach of the Lions in 2018, he signed a five-year contract. When Judge was hired as head coach of the Giants in 2020, he also signed a five-year contract. With both coaches now back on the Patriots’ staff, and still collecting paychecks from their head-coaching deals, it lessens the stress on New England’s coaching payroll. While I don’t view that as Belichick’s primary motivation, it is fair to call it an added benefit. In a sense, just as Belichick seeks out value on the free-agent market, he has done the same with his staff.
6. Mac’s Pro Bowl personality: Did anyone have more fun at last Sunday’s Pro Bowl than Jones? After watching this entertaining miked-up segment, it’s a decisive no. And while the game itself isn’t necessarily must-watch, it could have a significant impact for Jones and the Patriots down the line as top players from across the NFL got a chance to see what he’s all about … and seemed to enjoy the experience.
7. Draft thoughts: There’s a long way to go before the NFL draft on April 28-30, but when beginning the process of becoming more familiar with prospects who might fit for the Patriots at No. 21, the possible options at receiver were intriguing to consider. Specifically, how does Alabama pass-catcher Jameson Williams’ torn ACL affect his stock, and does it set up a scenario where he could slide and the Patriots potentially pull off their version of Joe Burrow–Ja’Marr Chase with Jones-Williams — two players from the same program as first-round picks in back-to-back years.
8. Super prediction: Rams 31, Bengals 23. Similar to last year, when there was conviction that the Buccaneers would win because of the Chiefs’ deficiencies on the offensive line, the Rams have that edge this time around. And turning it closer to home, where the Patriots’ offensive line provides a solid foundation on which to build, I view the re-signing of center/guard Ted Karras as a sneaky-but-high priority.
9. Age-old story: Zac Taylor (38) and Sean McVay (36) are a combined 74 years old, making the Bengals-Rams Super Bowl the youngest head-coaching matchup of all time, and the youngest matchup in any postseason game since the 1936 NFL championship (Ray Flaherty and Curly Lambeau — 71). The view is different here in New England, where Belichick turns 70 in April and is set to enter his 23rd season as head coach. That continues the longest head-coaching tenure in the NFL and sets the table for what the Patriots hope will be a theme in 2022 — that older and wiser produces championships.
10a. Did You Know, Part I: The Patriots holding the Rams to just three points in Super Bowl LIII marks the lowest scoring output for Los Angeles in McVay’s five seasons as head coach (90 games).
10b. Did You Know, Part II: The Rams (one) and Bengals (zero) have just one combined Super Bowl win, marking the first time since the Patriots faced the Panthers in XXXVIII that the Super Bowl participants entered with one or no combined titles.