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The New England Patriots were ousted by the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game. The Patriots offense was not able to execute a successful game plan that would challenge the Denver Broncos aggressive defensive front seven. The fault could be placed at many different areas along the offense. The offensive line played bad, the execution was poor and the coaching was at times not very Patriot-like.
The simple fact of the matter is the supposed offensive genius Josh McDaniels has to go. This is not an overreaction to what transpired during the AFC Championship Game in Denver. This is just a fact. Little Joshua was not the scapegoat for the offensive breakdown against the Broncos. That fell on Dave DeGuglielmo the Patriots former offensive line coach, whose contract was not renewed after the season.
So why should the Patriots move on from McDaniels? He won a Super Bowl last year! His offense scores big points! Last year the passing game beat the Ravens! The passing game beat the Seahawks! I have stated this many times, the Patriots had two improbable 14 point comebacks against the Ravens. Against the Seahawks, it took the best quarterback performance in the fourth quarter in Super Bowl history and an amazing interception by Malcolm Butler to win. The Patriots won because of the greatness of Tom Brady and a desperation to pass. They won in spite of McDaniels, not because he’s some kind of genius. McDaniels offense once again failed in the playoffs this year. Another one-dimensional game plan is shut down by a good defense.
McDaniels is a product of Brady, Julian Edelman, and Rob Gronkowski. In his first stint as Patriots offensive coordinator (06-08), he was a product of Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker. McDaniels can draw up a game plan with the best of them when he has all-star caliber players around him. With average talent, not even the greatest quarterback of all time can save him.
McDaniels spent three seasons away from the Patriots, (2009-11) with the Broncos as head coach and the Rams as offensive coordinator. In 2009, he started his head coaching career at 6-0 before finishing the season 2-8 the rest of the season. McDaniels offense scored 20.4 points per game down from the 23.1 PPG the previous season under Mike Shanahan. The following season the Broncos fired McDaniels after a 3-9 start. In McDaniels 12 games the team scored an average of 21.33 PPG, the number increased to 22 PPG after his firing. With the Rams his offense was 32nd in the league with marginal talent at best. None of that has to do with the perfect relationship he has with Brady one might say!
McDaniels was officially named the offensive coordinator of the Patriots for the 2006 season. However, he called plays for the 2005 season as the QB coach. In 2004, the Patriots scored 27.3 PPG on their way to a Super Bowl win. In 2005, they averaged 23.7 PPG. In 2006, they were slightly better at 24.1. The biggest change in the offense was McDaniels reliance on the passing game. In 2004, the Patriots ran the ball 32 times per game. In 2005, that number dropped significantly to 27 times a game. The Patriots were 10-6 in 2005. In the 10 victories, the Pats averaged 114.9 yards per game on the ground. In the six defeats, they averaged just 60.5 rushing yards.
Fast forward to the 2007 team, everyone loves that team. Why wouldn’t you love the team? They went undefeated in the regular season and all the way to the Super Bowl, where they lost to the New York Giants. The problem was that once the postseason started the Patriots offense was not as well equipped to win as in the regular season. In New England for years, we made fun of the finesse offenses of Peyton Manning and the Colts who were bounced out of the playoffs by teams that were stronger defensively. Now it was the Patriots who in Super Bowl 42 tried to win with finesse. McDaniels and company want to win pretty, they do not grind it out when they have to.
In Super Bowl 42 the Patriots took an early 7-3 lead after a touchdown on their first drive. On the first drive, the Patriots threw the ball eight times and ran it five times. Passing on 61.5% of the downs. The offense was helped out big by a pass interference call that set the Patriots up on the one-yard line for a Lawrence Maroney touchdown. You could see that trouble was brewing right from the start as Brady was a mere three of eight on the drive. From the moment the Patriots took a 7-3 lead until the Giants went up 10-7 the Patriots ran 37 plays, throwing on 27 and rushing on 10. The 37 plays netted 144 yards or 3.98 yards per play. The Patriots then fell behind 10-7 and Brady and the offense came alive with a 12 play 80-yard drive that ended with a touchdown. Brady was eight of eleven on the drive for 71 yards and a touchdown. The rest of the game he was a mere 21 or 37 for 195 yards and he was sacked five times.
Everyone knows the outcome of the game, we do not need to rehash that here. Had the Patriots established more balance during the game, they could have won. If the Pats had not called pass plays on 73% of the downs between going up 7-3 and falling behind 10-3, things could have been different.
Looking at the other losses in the playoffs during the Josh McDaniels play calling era in New England we will find similar results. In the 2005 loss to the Denver Broncos, the Patriots threw on 63% of plays. In 2006 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis, the Patriots passed on 58% of plays. In that game, the Patriots built a 21-6 lead. After the lead was established the Patriots passed on 23 of 30 plays or 76.6% of the time. In 2012 the Patriots lost to the Ravens, passing on 66% of plays. In 2013 and 2015 the Patriots season ended in a loud Sports Authority Stadium with the Patriots unbalanced play being at the center of it all. In 2013, the Pats lost in Denver passing on 70% of plays. This past season ended the same way as so many others with McDaniels at the helm, as his offense passed on an astounding 77% of the plays. As we saw this year when an offense is one-dimensional, a defense can just rush after the passer.
The Patriots run the Erhardt-Perkins offense, an offense installed by Charlie Weis under Bill Belichick. Ron Erhardt’s famous quote was, “throw to score, run to win.” Josh McDaniels does not understand that philosophy. The 2015 Patriots season puts this truth front and center. In week two against the Bills the Patriots held a 34-13 lead and held on to win 40-32. After taking the 21 point lead, with 1:32 remaining in the third quarter, the Patriots passed on 20 of their next 22 plays scoring just three points as the Bills climbed back to make the score 37-32. In a November clashed with the Broncos, which ultimately decided playoff home field advantage the Pats held a 14 point lead until a muffed punt by Chris Harper. After the Broncos made the score 21-14 the Patriots passed on 13 of the next 14 plays scoring no points. The philosophy continued to put a defense on the field in the mile high air, with little rest. The lack of running almost ended Rob Gronkowski’s season as he injured his knee on one of the unsuccessful pass plays. What is even more baffling is the Pats had a first and 10 with 2:53 to go in the game with Denver having only one time out. Instead of using the clock and the running game to their favor the Patriots decided to pass. On fist down the Patriots throw an incomplete pass and Gronk got hurt. On second down Patriots passed again and it was incomplete stopping the clock. The Pats then faced third and 10 and after a completed pass the Broncos called their final timeout. The Pats punted and the Broncos received the ball with 2:31 left. The lack of calling runs gave the Broncos roughly 45 extra seconds, and the two-minute warning to work with. Denver was able to score a touchdown on the ensuing drive. After a herculean drive by Brady to tie the score, the Broncos ultimately won the game in overtime.
There are plenty of fans and media alike who believe that McDaniels is the heir apparent to Bill Belichick. Handing the keys of the franchise to a man who doesn’t know how to win is a bad idea. With McDaniels as the play caller, the Patriots are 11-6 in the playoffs with two Super Bowl appearances and one championship. With Weis or Bill O’Brien calling plays the Patriots are 11-3 with four Super Bowl appearances and three championships.
If the loss to Denver teaches us anything it is that the Patriots offense needs to become more diverse, to keep the opponent’s defense guessing. The Patriots must not rely on Brady to perform miracles again with his aging right arm. As Erhard said. “Throw to score, run to win.”