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Bill O’Brien Is An Instant Upgrade Because He’s Not Matt Patricia Or Joe Judge

Head coach Bill OBrien of the Houston Texans speaks to the media at the Indiana Convention Center on February 25, 2020 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The news had been out there for a couple of days, but on Thursday the New England Patriots officially announced the return of Bill O'Brien as offensive coordinator. Like Dan Campbell did in Detroit, O'Brien will slightly benefit from the goodwill that comes with succeeding Matt Patricia.

O'Brien worked in various offensive roles with the Patriots from 2007 to 2011 before he took the head coaching job at Penn State for two seasons, then went to the Houston Texans in 2014. He won the AFC South four times in his tenure there, although the team never got past the divisional round in the playoffs. In January 2020, O'Brien took over as the Texans' general manager in addition to his HC roles. Only two months passed before he traded receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for an astoundingly poor return. (The Cardinals recently cleaned house and could move toward a rebuild; while it's unlikely that the Patriots would trade for Hopkins, it would now be extremely funny if they did.) He was fired that October after the team's 0-4 start.

After that exit, O'Brien licked his wounds on Alabama's coaching staff. His contract there was set to expire on Feb. 28, but Bill Belichick decided to bring him back before then, since the Patriots' coaching staff tends to function as a no-kill shelter for abandoned coaches who can't lead a team elsewhere. In Foxboro, O'Brien won't have the authority to make mindless trades or lead an entire team. He's there to handle what the two dopes before him couldn't do.

Naturally, Belichick refused to confirm specifics for as long as he could, but during the 2022 regular season, Patricia was calling plays on offense and Joe Judge was coaching the quarterbacks. This was an alarming arrangement, because Patricia's coaching background is defense and Judge's is special teams. Also, it didn't work. Second-year quarterback Mac Jones took a step back in his performance and was visibly frustrated with the play-calling during a 24-10 loss to the Bills. After that game, receiver Kendrick Bourne told reporters the team needed to throw the ball downfield. Following a 26-3 win over the Colts, players in the locker room discussed how Indianapolis linebacker Shaq Leonard was calling out the Pats' plays before the ball was snapped. (That result might seem like a blowout, but New England had a total of one TD and 203 yards on offense.) Patricia's play-calling was rarely courageous, and the offense tended to leave the field early: The Patriots' third-down conversion rate was 34.9 percent, ranking 27th in the NFL. The defense was great, but rookie Marcus Jones could only score so many TDs. New England finished 8-9 and missed the playoffs.

An outside observer could gather enough info to conclude that Patriots players were unhappy with the coaching setup. Then this week the Boston Herald published a report that hammered home the discontent. The article gets pretty granular about the dysfunction on offense, but the gist is that when OC Josh McDaniels left for the Raiders, his replacements reportedly messed with the existing system and cut the number of plays "by roughly half." The slimmed-down version, which mixed in schemes from Rams coach Sean McVay, was supposed to be simplified, but it was tweaked and adjusted so many times that it became limited and confusing. From the Herald:

The goal of the revised offense, as players explained to the media throughout training camp, was to play faster. Reduce the reads, cut the concepts, practice those that were kept, simplify, simplify, simplify.

Except, none of the assistants had coached a Shanahan-style system before, like the Rams’, be it under McVay or any other disciple of Mike Shanahan, the namesake of the NFL’s most popular offense. The staff’s lack of understanding became a frequent source of frustration in meetings, when players with experience in Shanahan systems, of which there were at least a half-dozen, would raise questions about how to solve defenses they had faced with other teams.

“A lot of guys would ask, ‘Well, what’s going to happen if (the defense) does this?’ And you would see they hadn’t really accounted for that yet,” one source said. “And they’d say, ‘We’ll get to that when we get to that.’ That type of attitude got us in trouble.”

This issue could be mainly blamed on Patricia. Meanwhile, Judge was occupied by getting yelled at and having pissing contests with the team's starting quarterback:

As Patricia came under outside fire as the face of the offense, Judge drew increasing criticism from within. Belichick would blast him in practice, and it wasn’t uncommon for Judge and Jones to trade profanity-laced outbursts. Jones’ trust in his position coach was effectively non-existent.

“Mac didn’t like him,” one source said. “At all.”

“(Judge) would speak extra loudly in meetings, trying to project like he was the guy,” another source said. “And I think that kind of rubbed people the wrong way.”

“A lot of people were frustrated with (Judge),” a third added.

Sheesh. The Lions and Giants have improved in both performance and attitude since they fired Patricia and Judge as head coaches.

By rehiring O'Brien, Belichick seems to have learned from his big mistakes. Originally neither Patricia nor Judge were part of the Patriots' Shrine Bowl coaching lineup for next week, until NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport clarified that Judge would be in attendance, but not coaching. The defensive coaching staff is more stable, even with Belichick's two doofy sons. Linebackers coach Jerod Mayo, who had scheduled defensive-coordinator interviews with other teams and will likely get a promotion once his new extension is finalized, is becoming part of the inner circle: He reportedly accompanied Belichick through the interview process for offensive coordinator. Jones is reported to be thrilled with the hiring of O'Brien. As for Matt Patricia, I can only hope that the Patriots officially announce his firing then toss that incompetent creep onto a barge before it sets off for a destination far, far away.

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