Mike RiceESPN staff writer6 minutes of reading
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Quick thoughts and notes surrounding the New England Patriots and the NFL:
1. O’Brien’s Impact: Quarterback AJ McCarron played for new Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien with the Houston Texans in 2019 and 2020, so he has a good feel for what Mack Jones is about to experience this year.
He summed it up in perhaps the four most important words of the Patriots’ season: “Quarterback-friendly offense.”
McCarron, 32, was in the midst of preparations for his XFL debut on Sunday — his St. Louis Battlehawks host the San Antonio Brahmas (3 p.m. ET, ABC) — when he entertained questions about what the presence might entail to O’Brien means to Jones.
McCarron sees promising opportunities in part because of the enjoyment and personal growth he experienced in O’Brien’s system as Deshaun Watson’s backup.
“OB is a wonderful coach; very intelligent and makes guys play hard. I think he’s going to do an excellent job there,” McCarron said.
McCarron’s mention of a “quarterback-friendly offense” ties into something Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in an interview with Fox Business in the days leading up to the Super Bowl: “We’re blessed to have a great, young quarterback in Mack Jones. I strongly believe in him and his development.”
What Kraft didn’t say, but it seems obvious from the team’s actions this offseason, is that coach Bill Belichick’s plan for 2022 is to streamline the offense, not hire an official coordinator and make significant changes to the offensive defense. line, was closer to the quarterback-hostile violation.
That contributed to Jones’ stunted development in his second NFL season, which Belichick often cites as the year players typically make their biggest leaps. Now, for the 8-9 Patriots to get back into the playoffs and position themselves to win their first postseason game since beating the Rams in Super Bowl LIII, they need to provide better infrastructure around him.
McCarron, who like Jones played in college at Alabama, sees O’Brien as a difference-maker in that regard.
McCarron spent the first four years (2014-17) of his NFL career with the Bengals, who ran a West Coast offense with longer plays, the center making the line calls to block the run and the quarterback running the pass protection calls.
His eyes were opened after he signed in 2018 as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills, who, under former Patriots assistant Brian Daboll, ran a “New England-style offense” in which all the calls went through the quarterback and a word could means everything from formation, protection and reproduction.
After being traded to the Raiders later that season, McCarron eventually landed with O’Brien’s Texans for the next two seasons and said, “What helped me grow a lot as a player was going to Houston. … I dove into that offense and from then on I wanted to know everything — run-blocking schemes, pass-blocking schemes, the quarterback putting us in the best possible situation.”
In the Patriots’ ideal world, Jones would have a similar experience this year.
2. Super Bowl Judon: What impressed Patriots outside linebacker Matthew Juden about the Chiefs’ 38-35 win over the Eagles in Super Bowl LVII? “The Chiefs’ O-line is protected beautifully,” he said on “The Jim Rome Show.”
“They kept [Patrick] Mahomes upright. He had an injured ankle and was really untouched. He could stand and deliver the ball and they also did a great job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly and getting it to the playmakers.
Juden’s statement highlights something pertinent for the 2023 Patriots.
How the Chiefs built their O-line after losing to the Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV — trading for left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., signing left guard Joe Tunney in free agency, drafting center Creed Humphrey (second round) and right guard Trey Smith (six round) and developing right tackle Andrew Wiley (2017 undrafted free agent) — shows the team’s weakness can quickly turn into a strength.
3. Open Labels: The window for teams to assign the franchise tag and transition tag to players begins Tuesday and ends March 7, but it would be a surprise if the Patriots use any tag. Receiver Jacoby Myers is their top free agent, but a $19.7 million franchise tag and $17.9 million transition tag seems rich unless it’s used as a replacement to buy a few extra days of extension time.
4. Tyquan in the City: Patriots receiver Tyquan Thornton, the No. 2 overall pick out of Baylor in 2022, was among the players in town last week. It’s early in the offseason, with the team’s voluntary program not officially starting until mid-April, but Thornton (50% of snaps; 22 catches, 247 yards, 2 TDs) has remained strong by running routes and fine-tuning his moves. As someone close to him put it: “He knows how important Year 2 is.”
5. The Grace of McCourtis: Longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty has conducted hundreds of interviews during his 13-year NFL career, but none have been as bold and graceful as one he and his wife, Michelle, participated in earlier this month. The McCourtys were guests on The TEARS Foundation podcast to discuss their stillborn daughter Mia in May 2020. The hope was to be a light to others. “I never thought I could get to a point where I could talk about it and not burst into tears,” Michelle said. “Hearing other people who have been through it helps.”
6. Mayo, Slater assist: The Vikings introduced former Patriots assistant Brian Flores as their defensive coordinator last week, and head coach Kevin O’Connell said future New England assistant Jerod Mayo and longtime special teams captain Matthew Slater had rave reviews that played a role. in a decision to hire Flores. “The way they talk about the impact he’s had on them … that was important to me, what people I really respect had to say,” said O’Connell, who entered the NFL in 2008 .as part of the same draft class as Mayo and Slater in New England, but hasn’t had as much contact with Flores himself.
7. Ticket increase: The Patriots informed their subscription members last week that they made their first stadium-wide price increase since 2008. While some teams annually increase ticket prices, the Patriots do so less frequently. Since the last stadium-wide increase in 2008, 41% of sections have had two increases, 44% have had one increase and 15% have had no increase. Last week’s announcement came alongside parking changes, which include an innovative option where fans are paid to park if they wish to wait 75 minutes before leaving after the game to reduce traffic on Route 1.
8. The Caley Decision: The Rams have not officially announced their full coaching staff, but former Patriots coach Nick Kailey has already started in Los Angeles as the team’s new head coach. Kailey spent the last five years in that role in New England, after two seasons as an assistant coach, and was passed over as the team’s coordinator in 2022 and 2023. So he’s making a lateral move and will now work in Sean McVay’s system, where maybe the path to the coordinator job is a little more open for him.
9. XFL Flavor: Patriots fans tuning in to the XFL’s opening weekend of action will recognize some familiar names on the eight-team rosters, perhaps none more so than Seattle Sea Dragons wide receiver Josh Gordon (2018-19). And New England college football followers will notice Boston College linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley (Arlington, Texas) and Stonehill College receiver Andrew Jamiel (Orlando). Almost everyone in the XFL is chasing a dream, to which Battlehawks head coach Anthony Becht said, “I see NFL players on my roster.”
10. Did you know? The Super Bowl was decided by three points for the second straight season, marking the first time back-to-back Super Bowls were decided by three points since Super Bowls XXXVIII and XXXIX – Patriots over Panthers and Patriots over Eagles.