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Perry: Is Patriots' offense too simple? Scarnecchia has thoughts

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Bill Belichick Dante Scarnecchia

Dante Scarnecchia knows it's not unusual. He's seen it many times before. An opposing middle linebacker sees something -- whether it's a formation, a pre-snap signal, even something as simple as an offensive lineman's stance -- and he knows what's coming.

It could be that's what happened over the weekend when the Colts came to town and held the Patriots to 3.3 yards per offensive play.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this week that it certainly looked like Colts linebacker Shaquille Leonard had a line into the Patriots' offensive huddle given how quickly he reacted to some of their plays. The same was true the week prior with the Jets and their veteran 'backer, C.J. Mosley.

"I thought that there were two or three plays for sure that Leonard really got a big jump on and stopped us basically on those plays," Belichick said. "[C.J.] Mosley got a couple of those a couple weeks ago in the Jets game. It looked like Mosley almost heard the play in the huddle, he was on it so fast. Leonard had a couple like that, too.

"So whether that's something we were giving away or just something that he anticipated based on whatever the keys were that he might have picked up, we certainly want to try to prevent that."

But that happens, Scarnecchia told The Next Pats Podcast. Part of the reality of the NFL.

 

"I think it's not unusual," Scarnecchia pointed out. "We all have to understand, those guys are getting paid on the other side, too. Guys like C.J. Mosley and [Leonard], they're both middle linebackers. They study the game. They study opponent tendencies and formations."

Next Pats Podcast: Dante Scarnecchia drops KNOWLEDGE on struggling Patriots offense | Listen & Follow | Watch on YouTube

And yet, Scarnecchia said, that doesn't mean the offensive coaching staff can't do anything to avoid those situations.

"I think," Scarnecchia said, "that's part of, as an offensive coach, you say, 'OK, look. When we line up in this formation, it can't always be this. It has to be something else, too.' That's protecting the things you do. I think that's hugely important.

"It's not just studying your opponents, the things they do, and how they do it, but also studying yourselves. 'What tendencies do we show people based on our formationing?' A lot of times it can be something as simple as somebody in a certain type of stance. There's many instances where a guard or tackle might be light in their stance, and everybody knows it's going to be a pass.

"... You pick those things up, you use them to your advantage. I saw the plays they showed on TV. Guy knew what was happening? I'm sure he did."

The question now is whether or not the Patriots have what they need -- both on the roster and on the sidelines with their coaching staff -- to make sure they aren't telegraphing plays moving forward.

With former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia calling plays (and coaching the offensive line), he has his hands full. He installed a new offense that was meant to be "streamlined," according to Belichick, relative to what the team ran under Josh McDaniels. But was it so streamlined that it has become easy to decipher for opposing defenses?

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When Scarnecchia was asked what he likes about the Patriots run game -- which seems to revolve around some "gap" style runs, some zone runs and some "toss crack" calls -- he noted that it is narrow in scope.

"Certainly the three things you've described, they do," Scarnecchia said. "And they do it all the time. They're a gap-run team. They run the crack sweeps. They run some zones. I've seen them trap more inside than I have in previous games. One-back trap. It just seems like, 'This is what we're going to do and this is how we're going to do it.' Then concentrate on the passing game.

"I'm a big proponent that the more you do something, the better you get at it. I like attacking the width and depth of the whole defense... I like mix. All line coaches want to run the ball. Don't get me wrong. We all want 150, 200 yards rushing if we can. You run 22, 24 runs in a game, you usually have a good chance of winning it.

 

"But to do that, you have to have enough effectiveness. The guy calling the plays saying, 'We're going to keep doing this.' As opposed to, 'We're not getting anything, let's go to something else.' "

The conundrum facing the Patriots is whether or not they can diversify their rushing attack in order to make themselves more efficient in the aggregate. Or do they need to focus on a handful of concepts, master them, and continue with what they have?

Are they trying to do too much, Scarnecchia was asked?

"Actually, I see it as very simple," he said. "They run three runs, basically. I'm sure there are variations off all that. They have their play-action and run-action schemes. That's all good. Then of course they drop back (pass).

"Screens, they should be part of any team's offense. They should be a good screen team. I like screens. Screens protect drop-back. I think it's really important for your run actions to protect your runs and your screens to protect your drop-back protection systems. I think that's what the whole thing's all about. It's protecting things you do well with other things and giving the defense enough mix where they're saying, 'Aw hell, these guys got an answer for a lot of things.' I think that's what you really need to do."

But is a week-long bye enough time to develop more of a mix? And do the Patriots have the staff to develop that mix amidst a time crunch?

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Maybe a David Andrews return to the lineup -- he was back at practice on Wednesday -- will help them in that regard. Given how their offense has performed the last two weeks -- and given the fact that opponents seem to know what's coming -- this break may be the best time for the Patriots to try to spice up their attack a bit.

It made sense to streamline things in the offseason. The previous playbook was voluminous and cumbersome for most new acquisitions. But if things have been streamlined to the point that the attack is now predictable for opponents, that's a hard way to survive in a league where offense rules.

Even the Patriots -- proud owners of one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL -- understand that playing good defense and not turning the ball over isn't enough to win at a high level in today's NFL, Scarnecchia said.

"I don't think they do (believe that's enough)," he said. "You want to be complete. You want to attack in the run game. You want to attack inside all the way to the outside ... You want to complement that with run action passes, drop-back, empty ... They're certainly capable of doing all those things.

"Ultimately it will come to that, making plays in the passing game, using Mac (Jones') talents and skills and the skill sets of the guys around him. You have to have the whole package to be successful. Not a lot of games are won 9-6 or 7-3 in this league."