The New England Patriots looked like they had a perfect winning formula with Mac Jones under center and Damien Harris in the backfield after rolling over the rival Jets, but all of their positive momentum came to a screeching halt against the New Orleans Saints, as Jones was intercepted three times in a home loss.
Harris never really got out of first gear, as he ran the ball just six times for 14 yards behind a New England offensive line that was overmatched by New Orleans for most of the day.
The Patriots never tried to get Harris going in this game, and that decision led to one of the more puzzling Week 3 snap count figures you’ll see across the league.
Brandon Bolden had the most snaps of any Patriots running back, as Harris was only on the field for 22 plays, or 31% of the snaps. Considering that this is down from 42% in Week 2’s win against the Jets and 53% in their loss against Miami to open the season, is this a sign that Bill Belichick or Josh McDaniels doesn’t trust him?
Whatever the case may be, the injury to James White should give Harris even more responsibility to make this offense work as both a runner and receiver.
Leaving him on the bench for most of the game is simply not going to be a winning formula with a rookie quarterback.
Damien Harris is the key to this Patriots offense.
While Jones tried to go downfield yesterday, albeit with mixed success, it’s clear that Belichick wants to run some Frankenstein hybrid of the West Coast offense and an old Erhardt-Perkins scheme. Both schemes require a strong bell cow, and Harris is the closest the Patriots have to one on this roster.
As egregious as his fumble in the loss against the Dolphins was, and despite Belichick’s history of banishing running backs who fumble the ball to the bench, Harris is fresh off a dynamite 2020 season, and his play against the Jets made him look like a back that can shoulder a great deal of offensive responsibility.
Bolden is…Bolden, and JJ Taylor is not an every-down back right now. Leaving Harris on the bench and failing to get him going early feels like New England is almost trying to play with one arm tied behind their back.
Part of the reason Jones may be in the best situation out of all the rookie quarterbacks is the fact his skill position players are (theoretically) so talented. Just look at Jakobi Meyers’ leap! Harris being able to take pressure off of him on the ground is pivotal for getting Jones comfortable, and he won’t do that pacing back and forth chugging Gatorade on the sideline.