Through two weeks, the Patriots’ passing game under Bill O’Brien is undoubtedly better than it was during last season’s disaster. It passes the eye test, and there have been positive early returns.
Mac Jones is among the league leaders in several passing categories, though that’s been a byproduct of playing from behind. But the quarterback and his unit have looked more fluid and competent than they did at any point last season. Still, though, there’s a gear and level they’re still trying to find as they search for their first win of the season.
“For us, I think it’s about finishing drives,” O’Brien said Tuesday. “I think we moved the ball at times, I’m not saying we moved the ball all the time, but we moved the ball at times. But we’re inconsistent. We have to coach it better and try to get to be more consistent and finish drives. We get in there and we drive the ball 30-40 yards and then we stall, so we have to do a better job of stringing plays together to be able to finish drives.”
A recurring problem through two weeks is the Patriots’ slow starts. They fell behind 16-0 to the Eagles, then 10-0 to the Dolphins. In both cases, the Pats were moving the ball well offensively before a poorly timed turnover stopped them.
Those starts have forced the Patriots to play from behind for the vast majority of the first two games. The offense, to its credit, has done well to fight back and make both games competitive, but the unit failed to complete comebacks with chances to win or tie. Whether it’s starting games or executing in late-game situations, the Pats have been too inconsistent.
“The start of the games, we’ve moved the ball and something’s happened, whether it was a pick six or a sack like what happened the past weekend,” O’Brien said. “I do think we have the right idea when it comes to opening these games, but again, we have to be able to string the plays along so that we can come down and get points and not stall around midfield. So we’re working hard to figure that out and hopefully that’ll improve. It has to improve.”
One area that seems to be holding the Patriots’ offensive line play, which has been plagued by injuries, inexperience and a lack of continuity. But O’Brien isn’t interested in excuse-making. He pointed to a handful of drives in each game in which the Patriots have pushed into opponent territory and come up empty, which is inexcusable.
“There’s been glimpses of what the offense can be and we have to be more consistent,” O’Brien said. “There’s no excuse in the world that really matters to anybody out there. Nobody wants to win more than we do in this building, and I just think it’s coming down to consistency and like I said before, finishing drives. … I think we’ve gotten the ball inside the 20-yard line or maybe the 30-yard line like six times and have come away with no points. Like we can’t do that anymore. We have to come away with points. …
“The name of the game is points. And when you don’t score more points than the other team, it’s not good. So we have to come away with points when we get into those areas of the field.”
Need for improvement
The Patriots’ run game has been woeful to start the season, averaging 82 yards per game on just 3.5 yards per carry. O’Brien acknowledged it’s an area that needs to get better.
“We have to improve the running game, there’s no doubt about that,” O’Brien said. “I think that starts with us as a coaching staff. We have to do a better job with what we believe we’re going to see and what we actually see on game day. I think the players, they’ll continue to work very hard. … We have to get the running game better and we’re going to work very hard on that this week.”
Confidence in ‘Pop’
Rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas didn’t see an offensive snap in Sunday’s loss after his fumble in the first quarter. When asked how he balances prioritizing ball security and making sure he continues to play with confidence, O’Brien praised the rookie while insisting other offensive packages led to him not playing for the rest of the game.
“I have a lot of confidence in Pop Douglas as I do all the players that we have,” O’Brien said. “I think as the game played out the other day, because of what we did, the packages that we went to, whether we were in no-huddle or some of the things that we’re doing, it just wasn’t Pop on the field. At the end of the day, I think we have to do a better job of continuing to get everybody involved in the gameplan throughout the game, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. I think Pop will learn from what happened on Sunday, but Pop has had a really good rookie experience so far, from OTAs to training camp to where we are now, Pop has done a lot of really good things. So, we like when Pop is in the game.”
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its list of 173 of modern-era nominees for the Class of 2024 on Tuesday. It includes several former Patriots, including Corey Dillon, Troy Brown, Ben Coates, Matt Light, Vince Wilfork, Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. The list will be reduced to 25 semifinalists in November. … Jim Nantz and Tony Romo will be on the call for Sunday’s game against the Jets on CBS.