2023 New England Patriots Offseason Preview
After making the postseason with a rookie quarterback, the Patriots entered the 2022 season with the goal of toppling the new AFC East kings, the Bills. Though they made efforts to add talent on offense, their scoring unit, designed by the defensive-minded Matt Patricia, fell flat at every turn. Mac Jones struggled to adjust to the new offense and took a step back compared to his first season. That was before (and after) suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for a few games. Fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe even looked better than Jones in his two starts. The Zappe spark came crashing back to earth when he tossed two interceptions in Week 8 after replacing Jones mid-game. The Pats had no consistency in their passing game and were forced to rely on their ground attack to secure low-scoring wins. That approach kept them in the playoff race until Week 18 when they were bounced via a loss to the Bills.
Key Offensive Stats
- Points per game: 21.4 (17th)
- EPA per play: -0.05 (24th)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.03 (22nd)
- Passing yards per game: 208 (20th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.08 (21st)
- Rush yards per game: 106.6 (24th)
With long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels whisked away to coach the Raiders, New England chose this season as their opportunity to revamp and modernize their offense. The Pats eschewed their power run scheme in favor of more zone looks. They also ditched the fullback and became one of the league’s biggest proponents of three-receiver sets. Though Rhamondre Stevenson put up strong counting stats in this system, he rushed for 1,040 yards at five yards per carry, the Pats’ had their worst season by rush EPA in over a decade. Through the air, Jones was given the advantage of play-action less often despite his numbers drastically improving with its use. His yards per attempt fell by half a yard and he scored at a slightly reduced clip. His completion percent over expected also took a significant hit.
Key Defensive Stats
- Points per game: 20.4 (11th)
- EPA per play: -0.09 (3rd)
- Dropback EPA per play: -0.08 (3rd)
- Passing yards per game: 216.5 (16th)
- Rush EPA per play: -0.1 (11th)
- Rush yards per game: 105.5 (6th)
Though the operation stalled on offense, things couldn’t have gone smoother for New England on the other side of the ball. They were strong against the run and elite versus the pass. The Pats earned the seventh-highest pressure rate and generate the third-most sacks. Outside linebacker Matt Judon tallied 15.5 sacks on his way to a fourth consecutive Pro Bowl nod. In two years with the Patriots, he has totaled 28 sacks. Third-year outside linebacker Josh Uche also earned double-digit sacks. New England’s only weakness was their secondary. Veteran Jonathan Jones was the team’s top corner and he ranked as Pro Football Focus’s No. 44 cornerback in coverage grade. Still, New England’s elite pass-rush helped mask their deficiencies at corner.
14th, 46th, 76th, 107th, 117th, and 135th
Notable Free Agents
Many of the Pats’ acquisitions during their 2021 spending spree are found in the above table. Some are free agents while others, like Hunter Henry, could be released for cap purposes.
It’s unclear if Jack Jones, who was suspended by the Patriots for conduct issues, will play for the team again. With Jones possibly gone and fellow corner Jonathan Jones hitting free agency, New England’s secondary has more gaps than players.
Three Patriots tackles are set to be free agents. The trio primarily played right tackle and combined for a total of 15 starts at the position plus a few stints at other spots along the line. Trent Brown could also be a cut candidate, but New England’s other losses at tackle make that less likely.
The Patriots’ biggest upgrade in the offseason isn’t going to come on the field. It will be the difference between having Patricia, a defensive coach by trade, as their de facto offensive coordinator and Bill O’Brien in that role. Joe Judge, a special teams coach, spent 2022 as a quarterbacks coach in New England. He too will be replaced, though Judge is expected to stay on the staff, likely returning to special teams duties. Oregon offensive line coach and former Patriots player Adrian Klemm was added to the staff as well. Though it looks like New England will stick with its new-school approach, a more capable staff will be in place for the second year of the experiment.
The upcoming season feels like a make-or-break campaign for Mac Jones. The new coaching structure on the offensive side of the ball should give him a better shot at success. Adding more talent at receiver through the draft or free agency may also be necessary to evaluate Jones. If the third-year quarterback still struggles under improved conditions, Bill Belichick may be forced to consider other options next offseason.