Column: Lack of Aggressiveness on Offense is a Huge Problem for the Patriots

The New England Patriots suffered another heartbreaking defeat this past Sunday when they fell to the Dallas Cowboys 35-29 in overtime. The loss pushed the Patriots to 2-4. Even worse, New England is now 0-4 at Gillette Stadium this season.

Sure, it wasn’t all doom and gloom on Sunday, Mac Jones played his best game as a pro and the Patriots went toe to toe with one of the better teams in the NFL, but at the end of the day, the time for moral victories is over.

It would be easy to play the “what if” game and feel solace in the fact New England could have four or five wins if just a few more things had gone differently. But, the reality is, good teams win close games and the Patriots just aren’t a good team yet.

One way New England can evolve into being one of those good teams is by being a more aggressive offensive team. Right now, the Patriots’ in-game decision-making on offense is some of the most conservative in the entire NFL. In the below graph, the Patriots are ranked dead last in “go for it rate” in the NFL.

In today’s article, I wanted to dig into why the lack of aggressiveness from Bill Belichick on offense is hurting the Patriots.

Patriots Lack of Aggression

Giving away a possession before halftime

With New England up 14-10 with 1:30 left before halftime, the Patriots took over possession starting at their own 20. Seeing as how New England was set up to get the ball to start the second half, this seemed like a great opportunity to try and double-dip points (score at the end of the first half and at the beginning of the second half).

Instead, the Patriots handed the ball to Damien Harris for a one-yard gain on first down. On second and third down the Patriots kneeled the ball and ran out the rest of the clock.

Giving away a possession in a game in which you knew you were going to need to score points is not ideal. Sure, Dallas had only 10 points at the time, but the Cowboys weren’t forced to punt the entire first half. 

It was clear that eventually, they were going to get points. New England needed to do everything possible to build a lead before Dallas got it going. 

It’s fair to mention that the Patriots’ offensive line hadn’t been great in pass protection up to that point in the game, and yes, Mac Jones is a rookie. But, at the same time, it’s not hard to envision New England finding their way into field goal range in that situation.

Looking back, just imagine how big an extra three points would have been in this game. Bottom line: The Patriots don’t have the margin for error to waste a possession. That luxury just doesn’t exist right now. 

Fourth down punts

Belichick has shifted into an immensely conservative coach on fourth down over the years and his coaching decisions against the Cowboys reflected that.

The Patriots opted to punt the ball on four separate 4th and short situations (4th and 4, 4th and 3, 4th and 2, 4th and 1). Punting in all those situations did no favors for the offense and its attempt to put points on the board, but it also ended up really hurting the New England defense.

Why? Because the Cowboys had a huge time of possession disparity (39:17 to 26:51). In terms of plays ran, Dallas had 82 and the Patriots had 50.

Asking your defense to be on the field that much against a potent Cowboy’s offense is a recipe for disaster. 

It was clear the defense was gassed at the end of the game. To combat that from happening, New England needs to find a way to keep the offense on the field and sustain drives. If that means going for it on some fourth downs, then so be it.

The overtime punt

The most controversial of the four punts came in overtime when New England had a 4th and 3 from their own 46. Instead of trusting the offense and going for the win, the Patriots punted the ball back to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys’ offense.

Keep in mind, Dallas only needed a field goal to win the game. It’s also important to once again mention that aside from a couple of red-zone turnovers by Prescott, the Patriots defense had, for the most part, not stopped Dallas all day. 

The end result of the punt was the Cowboys easily driving down the field and scoring the game-winning touchdown. You can say hindsight is 20/20, but I find it hard to believe many thought the New England defense would stop the Cowboy’s offense after struggling to do so all day.

Was it a sure thing New England would have made the 4th and 3? No, but when you’re trying to pull off upsets you need to take risks to win games. It’s very rare when you see the less talented team pull out a victory playing ultra-conservative.

A loss in which New England went down aggressively swinging you can live, but losing while playing not to lose is a tough pill to swallow. 

Final thoughts

Belichick is the greatest coach of all time and he has more football knowledge than arguably anyone else, but the conservative philosophy the team currently employs has undoubtedly hurt the team.

What makes some of these decisions even harder to understand is that Mac Jones and the offense had played well offensively on Sunday. It would have been much easier to understand the coaching decisions had Jones been struggling, but as previously mentioned this was his best game as a pro.

The big question is: Will that conservative philosophy change anytime soon? It’s been a while since New England was aggressive on offense. Even towards the end of the Tom Brady era, Belichick was more conservative than most.

The difference now is that the Patriots are underdogs in a lot of these games. An underdog doesn’t have the leeway to be conservative and shy away from risks. Until New England operates with that in mind, there will continue to be frustrating in-game decision-making throughout the rest of the reason.

One thought on “Column: Lack of Aggressiveness on Offense is a Huge Problem for the Patriots

  • October 19, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    Extremely well written and well said, totally agree I about bloody lost it when they punted yet again (in overtime 🤦‍♂️)
    Yup you are 100 percent correct the coaches lost this one


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