FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If you were to compare the Patriots offense to a children’s book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" adequately sums up Monday’s practice.
Mac Jones probably didn't wake up with gum in his hair, trip on a skateboard or drop his favorite sweater in the sinks, like the narrator, Alexander, but the tenth day of training camp at Gillette Stadium looked like an abject disaster for the quarterback’s offensive unit.
They couldn’t run block. They couldn’t pass block. There was miscommunication with offensive targets. There was an interception on an errant throw. More often than not, Jones had little time to throw the ball due to the relentless Patriots pass rush. It didn’t take a football expert to see that Jones and his offensive teammates were frustrated throughout Monday’s practice.
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'There’s ups and downs. It’s training camp'
“That’s just part of it,” Patriots center David Andrews said of the frustration. “There’s ups and downs. It’s training camp. You know, got to go in, learn from it, see what we’ve got to do better and come out here tomorrow. You can’t let today or any day derail anything. That’s how it goes. Wins, losses – you’ve just got to stay steady you can’t go up and down”
The problem for the Patriots right now is that the offense doesn’t appear to be taking many steps forward. They haven’t decisively "won" a practice since Day 1 of training camp. We’ve seen plenty of struggles in the red zone. We’ve seen the offense look routinely disjointed as a new offensive coaching staff tries to install a new attack.
That’s clearly one issue right now. The install to this offense, in the wake of Josh McDaniels leaving, has Jones’ group often looking disorganized. There’s an expected level of ‘confusion’ when you have new coaches and play calls, but seeing the offense turn out one of their worst practices in Day 10 of training camp is disappointing nonetheless.
Why Monday's practice was a disaster
The problems started immediately on Monday. The offense’s first snap was a false start by Trent Brown. The next step was a Damien Harris run stuffed at the line of scrimmage. The third snap was an incomplete pass when it looked like Jones and his receiver, Nelson Agholor, weren’t on the same page. The fourth snap was a sack.
The defense brought a relentless pass rush that befuddled Patriots offensive linemen. With Isaiah Wynn not participating, backup Justin Herron was in at right tackle. He looked overwhelmed at times as the offensive line let up four sacks in Jones' first 16 pass plays. We saw multiple run stuffs and other pass plays that forced Jones to run out of the pocket or throw the ball away.
Since the Patriots put on pads last week, the offensive line has been clearly bested by the Patriots front seven.
“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Andrews when asked about the struggles in pads. “It’s just playing football in pads. This is what football’s about … all aspects of the game – running, draws, screens pass plays – that’s football. It’s all part of it. We just have to get better and move forward.”
The problem here doesn’t seem to be the quarterback. Jones doesn’t throw many inaccurate passes. There’s a clear issue, however, with receivers not getting open. But when the quarterback barely has two seconds to throw the ball, it seems like the issue isn’t on the receivers.
That being said, Jones has thrown five interceptions through 10 days of camp. Last year, he threw four picks in 19 total days of camp. The Patriots and new coaches – Matt Patricia and Joe Judge – clearly need to figure out the issue, and it'd be nice to see improvements in Thursday's preseason opener.
Patriots defense deserve some credit
As we entered training camp, it was thought that the weakness of the Patriots was their defense. At this point, it’s clear we underestimated this group, which lost J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy and Dont’a Hightower.
On Monday, Matthew Judon, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings and Carl Davis all got to the quarterback. Josh Uche destroyed the pocket on multiple snaps. It’s clear that the secondary, sans Jackson, is competing. Mills has been very good in camp. Monday also saw Jack Jones intercept Bailey Zappe and Joshuah Bledsoe intercept Brian Hoyer.
With each play – such as multiple Malcolm Butler pass breakups – the defensive players on the sideline grew louder and louder. They let Jones and his group hear it throughout this evening practice session. Their goal this summer has been clear – to dominate.
“I think the offense has had their days and has had some success, but we don’t want them to. That’s our job,” Judon said. “We want our DBs to strap down. We want our front to get push on the run and we want to win on the outside.”
Although we often see the Patriots defense get their fair share of wins in training camp, the utter domination this summer is new to these Gillette Stadium practice fields. When the two starting units get near the red zone, you almost expect the offense to fail. It’s been that commonplace here this summer.
Judon said the Patriots goal this season is to start every Sunday fast. That’s why they’ve increased their intensity in camp.
“We felt it out here,” Judon said. “Some Sundays, we're going to come out hot, and we try to start every period and practice right on the jump. We’re trying to jump out against anybody we go against. We’ve got to start fast.”
If they can keep that up, it’s great news for New England. The problem right now is that through 10 days of training camp, the offense feels like it’s moving backward. Monday was eye -opening for all the wrong reasons.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: New England Patriots' offense sparks cause for concern with camp woes