American Football

Sunday Patriots Notes: Familiarity a key part of New England’s offensive coordinator search


NFL: New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the NFL.

The NFL playoffs are underway, but the New England Patriots are not among the participating teams. Finishing the regular season with an 8-9 record, they were eliminated from the tournament with a Week 18 loss in Buffalo.

While our focus might be shifting into offseason mode now, some things still stay the same — our Sunday Patriots Notes being one of them.

Familiarity plays a key part in the Patriots’ offensive coordinator search: New England kicked off its search for a new offensive coordinator this week, and there are five reported candidates for the vacant position. All of them conducted virtual interviews with the organization between Wednesday and Friday, and while they come from different backgrounds do have one thing in common.

All of them have a history with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. While not all of the ties are obvious at first glance, they do exist and show how Belichick places a premium on familiarity and experience with his next OC.

Keenan McCardell: McCardell played wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns when Belichick was coaching the team. He spent four years with the team, but left after its relocation and the head coach’s firing were announced. | Additional analysis

Nick Caley: Caley joined the Belichick-led Patriots as an offensive assistant in 2015 and in 2017 took over as wide receivers coach. He has served in that role ever since, and was seen as a coordinator candidate going all the way back to last offseason.

Adrian Klemm: Klemm was drafted by the Patriots as a second-round pick in 2000 — Belichick’s first pick with the team. He spent five years in New England. | Additional analysis

Shawn Jefferson: Jefferson joined the Patriots as a free agent in 1996, joining a team that also had Belichick on its staff at that point. While he left for New York alongside Bill Parcells after the season, the link between the two men does exist. | Additional analysis

Bill O’Brien: O’Brien arrived in New England in 2007 and over the next five years climbed up the organizational ladder. By 2011, he served as offensive coordinator. | Additional analysis

Question about whether or not fishing in a familiar pond is the right approach are certainly legitimate one, especially given the team’s struggles in 2022. However, it appears the Patriots and their head coach feel they have found an answer to those: familiarity matters.

Some prominent names are missing from the list of candidates: While the Patriots took a look at the five candidates named above, some prominent names are not on that list. Kliff Kingsbury and Zac Robinson are probably the ones that stand out among them, given that they do have a connection with Belichick; both served as short-time backup quarterbacks for the Patriots.

Kingsbury is apparently not interested in returning to coaching this season after getting fired by the Arizona Cardinals. He reportedly booked a one-way ticket to Thailand and is planning to spend some time away from the NFL.

As for Robinson, the answer why he was not asked to interview is a more difficult one to find. We know familiarity should not be an issue, so where is the problem? One theory is that his lack of diverse coaching experience might have shied the team away: Robinson spent his entire coaching career so far working under Sean McVay in Los Angeles. The five candidates to interview for the job all have had several jobs all over the football landscape.

Additionally, there is a chance that McVay views him as his next coordinator and prying Robinson away is effectively not possible.

New England faces plenty of competition on the offensive coordinator market: Replacing offensive coordinators is en vogue this year, with a total of 10 such spots open across the league. Besides the Patriots, the following teams are also looking for a new OC and are therefore competing against Bill Belichick and company, at least indirectly:

Despite all these jobs being open, only one of the Patriots’ target candidates had an interview with one of them: Nick Caley, who spoke with the Jets before his interview in New England. Of course, a lot can still change over the coming days and weeks.

DeVante Parker was one of the NFL’s top big-play threats in 2022: The Patriots offense was bad in 2022, but not every aspect of it falls into that same category. One positive was New England’s ability to create big plays, with wide receiver DeVante Parker right up there among the best players in the league.

A new analysis by Pro Football Focus’ Marcus Mosher showed that Parker generated a big play — either a reception of 20-plus yards or a run of 10-plus — on 10 of his 47 looks (targets plus touches). His 21.3 percent big-play rate ties him for first in the NFL among wide receivers.

Also near the top of that list are Kendrick Bourne and Jakobi Meyers. They generated big plays at a rate of 14.8 (24th) and 14.3 percent (28th), respectively.

Mac Jones had a disappointing year, but he also received little help: Despite the big-play rates being encouraging, the Patriots’ skill position group as a whole had a disappointing season. How disappointing? A breakdown by NFL analyst Kevin Cole recently showed that the group and the rest of the offense actively dragged down quarterback Mac Jones.

The problem is that even when accounting for factors such as yards after the catch above expectation, drops, turnover luck, strength of schedule and sample size, Jones still ranked in the bottom third among NFL quarterbacks in 2022. The question the team will have to answer this coming season is whether or not that was the result of other factors at play — offensive play-calling among them — or of Jones simply not developing as hoped.

Devin McCourty will take his time before deciding whether or not to return: One of the biggest storylines to watch this offseason is the future of Patriots veterans Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty. Both are candidates to retire after spending several years as leaders both on and off the field.

No decisions have yet been made, however, at least as far as McCourty is concerned.

“I’m not 100 percent sure either way,” he recently said on the Peter King Podcast. “I know I want to take my time. You do something for 13 years, I don’t want to rush to make a decision.”

The Chiefs are trying to follow the Patriots’ footsteps: While their 27-20 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday might just prove to be a pyrrhic one — quarterback Patrick Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain along the way — it still allowed the Kansas City Chiefs to advance to the AFC Championship Game for a fifth straight year. The team’s success in recent years is impressive, and it has allowed the organization to actively chase the Patriots.

New England, of course, made it to the conference title round in eight straight years between the 2011 and 2018 seasons. Of those eight trips, five ended with a journey to the Super Bowl resulting in three championships. The Chiefs, so far, are 2-for-4 with one Super Bowl.

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