It was a disappointing year at Gillette Stadium last season as the Patriots finished 3rd in the AFC East. With a record of 8-9 it was just the second time in the last 22 years that the team had finished with a sub .500 record. Inconsistency was a major issue in New England and they simply could not compete with the better teams in the league, accented by their losses to the Bills, Bengals and Dolphins. With much loftier goals in mind at the beginning of the season, head coach Bill Belichick will no doubt be looking for a huge improvement come September. NFL lines are not looking overly favorable for the Patriots but where exactly will they need to improve and what have they done to do so already?
The standout issue last season was the offensive play calling. With Matt Patricia serving as the offensive playcaller, they averaged just 21.4ppg. That made it their second worst points average since 2000. Patricia’s efforts were called into question by many and come the end of the season he was relieved of his duties after not even a year in the job. They have now hired Bill O’Brien, former offensive coordinator for Alabama, and there will be a hope that ‘The Teapot’ can turn their offensive fortunes around next season.
Special teams was another big problem in New England and the Patriots had one of the worst in the league and inarguably the worst since Belichick took charge over 20 years ago. This was best evidenced during their 35-23 loss to the Bills on the final day of the season. In that game, they scored more offensive points than Buffalo and forced three turnovers but still couldn’t come away with the win. This is down to the fact that Buffalo’s Nyeim Hines was allowed to return two kickoffs for touchdowns. This was something that had not been replicated since Leon Washington did so for the Seattle Seahawks back in 2010.
The quarterback issue was undoubtedly one that loomed throughout the entire season however, which brings us to our next look-in.
Mac Jones is in for the biggest season of his career and unfortunately it is for the wrong reasons. While the blame likely cannot be solely pinned on him with Patricia’s aforementioned playcalls falling short way too often, there is no doubt he has not yet shown that he is a franchise player. Admittedly he has gigantic shoes to fill and replacing Brady was always likely to be an impossible task. In his 32 starts the Patriots are 16-16 and there are definite question marks over whether he is a layer you can build a championship level offense around. With one year remaining on his deal and two average at best seasons under his belt, it is make or break time for Mac in New England.
Rhamondre Stevenson was a diamond in the rough in 2022. He had a breakout season following injuries to essentially every other running back who wasn’t a rookie. He played in all 17 games and delivered 1,461 all-purpose yards, establishing himself as a dual threat in the process. He had two games rushing for over 160 yards and two more receiving for over 70. With Damien Harris entering free agency, Ty Montgomery will likely take a backseat along with rookies Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris as Stevenson settles into his position as the primary back.
Marcus Jones was the rookie of the year in New England by quite some margin. He had huge moments in every phase of play throughout the season but his biggest is likely his walk-off punt return touchdown against the Jets. His PFF grade was third overall in the league on returns and it is likely we will see the cornerback on that side of the ball more often in 2023 and beyond.
The Patriots bolstered their defensive ranks well in the draft. Their first pick came in the form of cornerback Christian Gonzales. Projected to go much sooner, some draft predictors gave a less than 1% chance of Gonzalez being available after no. 15. Nonetheless, New England picked him up 17 th overall and will be rubbing their hands together over being able to fill a hole that was desperate to be filled with such a huge prospect. Elsewhere, Keion White came in as a defensive end and senior bowl standout Marte Mapu joined as a linebacker. White finished last season with 7.5 sacks in the ACC, tied fourth overall. The rest of their picks were a mix of offensive linemen, special teamsmen and a receiver, all of whom are likely to develop behind the scenes.
The Patriots have a decent foundation to build upon in 2023 and there is no reason they cannot improve from their poor 2022. While all eyes will likely be on Mac Jones for a while, the supporting cast will still need to step up.