Is longtime defensive coordinator Matt Patricia the right man to run the Patriots offense?

·4 min read

Matt Patricia has a new job description.

He's calling plays for the New England Patriots offense. For now, at least. Part-time. The ex-Detroit Lions head coach split offensive play calling duties with Joe Judge in New England's preseason game against the New York Giants on Thursday.

The scene turned heads because, well — why is Patricia calling New England's offense? Prior to his failed three-year stint with the Lions, Patricia spent six seasons as New England's defensive coordinator and six seasons before that coaching New England's linebackers and safeties.

On Monday, he addressed the subject.

"It’s just collaborative from that standpoint,” Patricia told reporters of calling plays alongside Joe Judge. “We follow coach Belichick’s lead. "I’m just trying to do my job to the best ability, whatever he asks me to do on any given day. And that’s the beauty of it. That’s what I love."

So is he in competition with Judge for the de facto offensive coordinator job?

"No, we’re 100 percent just trying to make sure we do everything possible as coaches to allow our players to go and do everything they can on the field. That’s what’s important, not the rest of it. If that makes any sense.”

It makes sense in that Patricia is toeing the company line and avoiding providing an actual answer. Judge likewise declined to provide a firm response while deferring to Belichick's leadership.

"My job is to do whatever he says to the best of my ability to get the players playing better," Judge told reporters on Monday.

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Their comments echo Belichick's intentionally obtuse response on Thursday when asked about Judge and Patricia taking turns calling plays, which he described as "going through a process."

"I thought it would be a good opportunity for us to do that," Belichick said of splitting play-calling duties while swatting away questions about who's going to be the actual offensive coordinator.

The answer to that question is nobody, technically. The Patriots announced official coaching titles in July with nobody claiming the role of offensive or defensive coordinator. Patricia's job title after re-joining the team as an assistant head coach in 2021 is now officially "senior football advisor/offensive line." Judge, who rejoined the Patriots staff after his own head coaching stint with the New York Giants, is listed as "offensive assistant/quarterbacks."

Joe Judge, offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach, Matt Patricia, senior football advisor/offensive line, and Bill Belichick, head coach of the New England Patriots. The Patriots dropped their preseason opener to the New York Giants, 23-21. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Joe Judge, Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick man the sideline against the Giants on Thursday. (Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

There are myriad Belichickian reasons why he's choosing to not name coordinators. But at some point — ideally before the regular season starts — somebody's going to take charge of play-calling duties.

Last year and years prior, that duty belonged to now-Las Vegas Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels. Who's the defensive coordinator? Technically New England hasn't had one since — you guessed it — Patricia, in 2017.

Belichick's son Steve Belichick is the linebackers coach and the de facto defensive coordinator in charge of calling plays on game day. Which partly explains why Patricia didn't return to his defensive coordinator role. As for why he appears to be auditioning to run New England's offense and is reportedly the favorite for the job? He's not completely new to that side of the ball.

Before shifting his career focus to defense, Patricia worked as an offensive assistant and assistant offensive line coach in his first two seasons in New England (2004-05). Belichick explained his confidence in Patricia as an offensive coach at league meetings in March.

“We’ve had a lot of coaches take multiple responsibilities,” Belichick said. “Josh (McDaniels) and Brian Daboll were on defense, and then the offense. Matt was on offense, then went to defense. So forth and so on. So I’m not really worried about that."

Meanwhile, it's not like Judge has an illustrious career as an offensive coach. He was a special teams assistant or coordinator for his entire eight-season stint on Belichick's staff prior to his two-year term leading the Giants. Now, like Patricia, he's returned to Belichick's staff following his own failed stint as a head coach while getting a shot at a new role.

The perceived lack of preseason structure on offense has raised concerns around the development of second-year quarterback Mac Jones. Belichick is largely considered the greatest coach of all time and doesn't care about those outside concerns. He's got this. Right?

Belichick's obviously earned the benefit of the doubt for any of his unorthodox coaching decisions. And this will all be forgotten if the Patriots play well on offense and Jones continues to develop in his second NFL season. But if Jones takes a step back? Belichick's gonna spend a lot of time this season continuing to deflect questions about New England's offensive leadership.