Matt Patricia called offensive plays in Week 1 against Miami. The result was not great in a 20-7 loss to the Dolphins. Nancy Lane/Boston Herald

The NFL’s best offensive play callers don’t just come armed with a good game plan every Sunday.

The best play callers also exude an intangible quality that serves as an X-factor during games. It’s a sense, a feel of what to call based on what they see from the defense.

It’s an ability to know when to go off script, and zig when the other team zags. They know how to counter, how to make adjustments to keep the chains moving. They also know which players to use most frequently.

Charlie Weis, the Patriots’ offensive coordinator for the first three Super Bowl wins, had a great feel for calling games. He always knew the best time to throw the long ball and go for the big play. He always knew who to go to, not to mention who to target on the opposing team.

Bill O’Brien and Josh McDaniels also had a pretty good idea how to pick a defense apart, who to use and what plays would be effective. They tended to come up with the right play, whether it was first down or fourth down.

Matt Patricia?


How can he possibly know? How can he possibly have a feel for what to call in certain situations? How can he lead Mac Jones? He’s never done it before. He’s learning on the fly.

It doesn’t matter if he’s called defensive plays. Calling the offense is a completely different animal.

Maybe during the week, the collective of Patricia, Bill Belichick and Joe Judge put a script together for the first series of offensive plays called in a game. So basically, Patricia just goes down the line, reading from a list.

But what happens after that? Game 1 gave us an indication for what’s in store.

What we saw was a very simplistic offense. There were no bells and whistles. There was no imagination. It was just basic stuff. The first series was nice, but it all fell apart after Jones threw an interception on a jump ball in the end zone. What was Patricia thinking going after Xavien Howard, the Dolphins’ top corner and one of the best in the game?

The Patriots went punt, fumble, punt on the three possessions following the pick. They only had one productive series the rest of the game.


Maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Patricia only used two personnel packages the entire game. Let’s just say the Dolphins weren’t stressed too much, and weren’t fooled by anything Patricia threw at them.

Granted, he was forced to throw the ball more with the Patriots behind, as Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson only had 17 rushes combined. Still, Patricia made a few curious calls en route to seeing the Patriots score just seven points.

Does anyone believe McDaniels would have called a Ty Montgomery run on second-and-17 from the Miami 47 right before the half?

While there were only six seconds left on the clock, there wasn’t even a thought to make a quick sideline pass to try and get into field-goal range. Just play it safe and get off the field without further damage.

How about having the ability to scheme his receivers open? McDaniels did that constantly with receivers who couldn’t separate.

Of course, there’s an execution element to all of this. It doesn’t matter what Patricia calls if the players can’t execute. Thanks to a leaky offensive line, the Patriots were also missing the execution component at times on Sunday.


But it still largely falls back on the play caller.

Patricia said it was simply a matter of him doing his best no matter what assignment Bill Belichick gives him. He said he was on staff and learned from Weis when he was calling the plays for Tom Brady, and also observed McDaniels.

So he believes he has some background. But not much.

Right now, it just looks like he’s been dealt a losing hand having to coach the offensive line, which has struggled mightily all summer, and also run the offense.

Belichick believes a good coach can teach any phase of the game, whether he specializes in the phase or not.

Calling offensive plays, however, requires a lot more. It takes time, something Patricia doesn’t have.


An offensive play caller has to understand how to use his assets. And, he has to be able to use those assets creatively.

See Kendrick Bourne.

The receiver was late to a squad meeting before the Panthers’ preseason game, and hasn’t been able to dig himself out of the doghouse ever since. Or maybe it’s all scheme-related?

What does Patricia need to see? How much time has to pass before Bourne gets on the field? He’s their most explosive threat. He has the best chance to beat man coverage.

And yet, Patricia kept him standing on the sideline before inserting him for two plays in the fourth quarter, one being a 41-yard completion, the lone big gain of the day for the Patriots.

There’s just no room for having a play caller in training. But that’s where they’re at heading into Week 2.

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