Once upon a time, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was one of the hottest names in the NFL’s head coaching carousel.
After directing a Brady-less Pats offense to eighth in scoring in 2008, McDaniels got his first chance as an NFL head coach and was fired in his second season with the Denver Broncos.
Then, following New England’s sixth Super Bowl championship in the 2018 season, McDaniels was given a second chance by the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a verbal agreement with McDaniels to become their next head coach, and McDaniels even began putting together a staff in Indy.
However, McDaniels infamously left the Colts at the altar due to his families’ desire to remain in New England and an aggressive pitch by Bill Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Although McDaniels wasn’t promised that he’d succeed Belichick as the Pats’ head coach, Belichick agreed to mentor him in the inner workings of roster building.
“I certainly have no regrets about what has transpired,” McDaniels said this week. “I have tried to learn and grow as a coach and as a person. You make decisions in life in your career that you feel like are the best decisions for you and your family, which is certainly what happened then.”
Although McDaniels’ heel-turn reinvigorates the Pats-Colts rivalry for some, the bigger question as we move forward is when another team will come after McDaniels as a head coaching candidate? And it is a matter of when, not if, as the stench from the Colts’ situation settles.
Speaking to a source familiar with at least one potential opening, the league is noticing McDaniels’ work with Mac Jones, and the Patriots’ offensive coordinator is re-emerging as a legitimate head coach candidate.
McDaniels is on the record that he still aspires to be a head coach again, and he could receive significant interest as soon as this coaching cycle.
Most teams hiring a new head coach are either looking to pair a coach with a young quarterback (Jaguars, Bears) or will be drafting a first-round quarterback in the near future.
Belichick is deservedly receiving most of the credit for the Pats’ one-year rebuild, but it’s McDaniels who has been attached to Jones’s hip since rookie minicamp last May, is in the weeds of his fast-tracked development and calling plays.
McDaniels receives some criticism for his situational play-calling, mainly in the red zone, and a lack of aggressiveness at times. Still, conceptually, he’s a fantastic play designer and game-planner that has Jones light years ahead of his peers in the 2021 rookie class.
For the Patriots, internal replacements for McDaniels as the primary offensive play-caller include tight ends coach Nick Caley, receivers coach Mick Lombardi, and receivers/returners and Pats legend Troy Brown.
Belichick could also pull from his old pool of assistants by taking Bill O’Brien from Alabama or passing game coordinator Chad O’Shea from the Browns.
The beat always goes on for the Patriots as long as Belichick is at the helm, but with 13 seasons of experience and Jones on an upward trajectory, losing McDaniels now would sting.
It’s also worth mentioning that there’s some sentiment out there that McDaniels wouldn’t leave New England until Jones is more established.
Either way, chances are growing that the Patriots will need to prepare for a potential McDaniels departure in the near future.
Without further ado, let’s empty the mailbag as we head into Week 15 of the NFL season:
Being a smart outfit like the Patriots and with the current rapid rise in Covid cases across the NFL, do you think the Patriots are doing anything differently that minimize the damage of Covid over the final portion of the reg season and in to the playoffs?
— Niall Kerrigan (@NiallKerrigan) December 16, 2021
Before we get into the league’s enhanced protocols, the winter spike in COVID cases is truly disheartening and frustrating. I hope everyone is staying safe. With that said, the NFL is essentially in 2020 protocols: mandatory mask-wearing in the facility, no in-person meetings indoors, no gathering for meals inside the club facility, a 15-player limit in the weight room with masks, and no leaving teams hotels or outside guests on the road. It’s the harsh reality of the situation. The one encouraging change is that a vaccinated player who produces one negative test after testing positive can now return to play, a change from the two negative tests in 24 hours rule. Hopefully, that will keep everyone safe and avoid a league-wide shutdown.
If this team loses in the playoffs it will be because ________?
— Josh McCord (@d31672575) December 15, 2021
Good question. I think the Achilles Heels for the Patriots could ultimately be failing to finish drives in the end zone, thus kicking too many field goals against an elite offense. We’ve gone over the numbers before: 26th in red-zone TD percentage and number one in the percentage of drives ending in a field goal. If they avoid Kansas City, the Pats might get through the conference without a high touchdown rate. But the Chiefs and whoever comes out of the NFC are a different story.
With Bledsoe being activated, where do you see him fitting in with the defense?
— Brian Pelo (@Brian_Pelo) December 15, 2021
Bledsoe was a hybrid nickel or strong safety-type in college who fits a similar mold as Adrian Phillips or Kyle Dugger. Bledsoe has natural man coverage talent, and his coaches at Missouri praised him heavily for his football IQ. Smart, instinctive, versatile, decent cover skills from both press and off-man techniques, special teams value; a classic Pats DB. It’s too early in his career to project a significant role for Bledsoe, but he could fit alongside Dugger as Phillips does now. We asked Belichick about Bledsoe this week, and here was his response:
“Josh got a late start, obviously, because of the situation he had in the spring [wrist injury]. That was unfortunate, but when he got an opportunity to practice the last two and a half weeks, he’d done a good job and showed up out there positively. Will he have a chance to contribute this year? We’ll see. I don’t know.”
We always hear about Coach Belichick preaching lane integrity and not getting too far passed the QB while pass rushing. What are some of his key principles in the run game to help win the point of attack to stop the run? We certainly will need them Saturday night.
— Jeff Scanlon (@jscancoach) December 15, 2021
The hallmark rule of Bill Belichick’s entire defensive system is to set the edge. Belichick believes that by containing runs to between the tackles and keeping the quarterback in the pocket, the defense will limit explosive plays. Along with setting the edge, the Pats are a take-on technique run defense that typically operates as a two-gapping system. In other words, they want their linebackers to come downhill and press blockers while defensive linemen will press-read through blocks-mirror into gaps. As always, it’s a do your job mentality. Control your gap assignments and let the puzzle pieces fit together.
Hi Evan, do you think we see Josh Uche again this year? He looked so good during Training Camp.
— ashley1992 (@ashley1992__) December 15, 2021
The Patriots started Uche’s clock to return off injured reserve this week, and the expectation is that he’ll be activated at some point. It’s certainly disheartening to see Uche tail off after a superb summer and start to the season. He was truly unblockable at times in camp and looked like a player poised for a huge year-two leap (potentially surpassing Kyle Van Noy as a starting edge defender). Uche then had three sacks and seven quarterback pressures in New England’s first two games, but a back injury followed by an ankle injury that landed him on IR derailed his season. Unfortunately, this is a pattern for Uche dating back to his Michigan days. Flash incredible rush talent, get the hype train rolling, then disappear due to injuries and other unforeseen circumstances. There’s no doubt he has a ton of upside, but Uche is running out of time to find consistency in both his game (run defense) and availability.
Patriots have been awarded the international marketing rights in Germany (home marketing area initiative) for 2022-2026. How likely is a Patriots (home) game in Germany next season?
— toah84 (@toah884) December 15, 2021
The Patriots will play a game in Germany at some point, but probably not next season. The league is more focused on a game overseas in either 2023 or 2024. Talks about European expansion are in the very early stages, and there are too many obstacles to overcome from this vantage point. Still, there will be more games in Europe soon, beyond the London games, and Germany is a high priority with Pats owner Robert Kraft angling to get his team in the first game in Germany. It’ll happen in the next few years.
If the Colts do manage to stop the run. What matchups or concepts will the team exploit in the passing game to be productive?
— NESports (@NESports52) December 15, 2021
We wrote about how the Patriots can exploit Indianapolis’ pass defense in this week’s game plan here. In short, I like this matchup for the Pats’ pass offense against a zone-heavy defense that struggles to defend tight ends and the middle of the field. The Colts are allowing the most receiving yards per game to tight ends this season and are 26th in DVOA on passes between the numbers. This is a juicy matchup for Mac Jones and company, especially if Indy’s defense puts most of their efforts into stopping the run.
Is this the game they look to get Hunter Henry going again
— Mike Simmer (@Msimmer125) December 16, 2021
As we alluded to earlier, there should be plenty of golden opportunities for Henry and Jonnu Smith. The Colts gave up seven catches for 123 yards to Gronk a few weeks ago, and Mark Andrews went off against them earlier this year (11 catches, 147 yards, two touchdowns). Indy is dead-last in yards per game allowed to tight ends (70.8) for a reason. They leave their linebackers in stressful zone coverage assignments in the middle of the field and play a lot of split-safety coverages. The seams and sitting in soft spots against zone will be there all day for the Pats TEs.
Is Dugger the main nickel once he returns this week or will Bryant have done enough to see more snaps.
— TheOvalOpinion (@ObverseOval) December 16, 2021
Bryant will play a large role as a dime-backer and slot in three cornerback nickel. But Dugger is quietly developing into a blue-chipper for the Pats defense and will out-snap Bryant. I’m expecting the Pats’ “big” nickel grouping with all three safeties to be their base defenses down the stretch. If offenses are in 11p or three wide receiver packages, it’s time for big dime with a little three CB nickel sprinkled in there. I don’t expect them to pull McCourty, Dugger, or Phillips off the field much.