It’s been a rough go for the Patriots offense.
Two offensive touchdowns in their last three games. Sacks galore. Poor run-blocking that’s left Rhamondre Stevenson finishing with more rushing yards gained after contact than he has total in certain games.
What can they do? For starters, be glad the Jets’ elite defense is no longer on the schedule. And move forward with their most effective plays, namely man-blocked runs, play-action passes and quick timing throws.
“Just like every team, you kind of pick your plays that you do well and continue to do those,” Mac Jones said this week. “So it varies, like you said, week-to-week. Obviously, there’s a shorter time. But we still get everything in. That’s what I love about this place, it’s all about the work.”
Beyond that, here’s how the Patriots offense can revive itself with an upset win at Minnesota:
1. Attack outside
It’s a rare week where the Patriots should look out wide and smile.
Because whether it’s DeVante Parker or Jakobi Meyers, the Pats will have a matchup advantage throwing at Vikings cornerbacks not named Patrick Peterson. Rookie Akayleb Evans missed last weekend’s start versus Dallas and was in concussion protocol as recently as Wednesday morning. Meanwhile, his replacement in that 40-3 loss, first-rounder Andrew Booth Jr., missed practice this week with a sore knee.
If both are sidelined Thursday, hybrid safety/cornerback Duke Shelley should start opposite Peterson. Shelley has played eight snaps in coverage this season, per Pro Football Focus. And in the slot, opposing quarterbacks have produced a passer rating of 115.8 when targeting nickelback Chandon Sullivan.
Is it any wonder the Vikings defense is a bottom-10 unit against No. 1 and No. 2 wide receivers by DVOA? Time to sling it outside and in the slot.
2. Help Yodny Cajuste at RT
Before Jones can drop back 35 times at Minnesota and attack outside, he’ll need protection.
Reliable pass protection has been amiss for most of the Patriots’ season. The main culprit? The right tackle position.
Last Sunday, Yodny Cajuste allowed one sack and three hurries around a holding penalty. In the Patriots’ last game before the bye, he also allowed four pressures. The week before that, Marcus Cannon, since placed on injured reserve, gave up one sack, a QB hit and three hurries.
So facing Pro Bowl edge rushers Danielle Hunter and Za’Darius Smith, the Patriots must plug the hole on the right side of their offensive line. Slide protection to Cajuste, chip with running backs and keep a tight end in to block.
“They’re elite, elite, elite pass rushers (and) football players,” Jones said this week. “This is a great group up front and then obviously a great defense. They have great experience at each level. They do a lot of different stuff.”
3. Go no-huddle
In one of the Patriots’ two touchdown drives since-mid-October, they went no-huddle.
The goal was to tire out a vaunted Jets pass rush, and jump-start an offense that had scored just six points in the first half of an eventual 22-17 win at New York. Coming off a three-point outing last Sunday, it’s time to hit the gas again.
Because of the short week, the Patriots will not be carrying a game plan into Minnesota with the same breadth of plays they would normally holster for a big game. So if they’re going to work from a smaller menu, they should turn tempo to their advantage. Force the Vikings to keep pace, and hit them with a mix of their best runs and short passes to negate the pass rush.
The Patriots’ small sample of no-huddle dropbacks is encouraging. In 38 hurry-up snaps, they’ve completed 68.4% of their passes at 8.4 yards per attempt with zero sacks taken.