Joe Judge or Matt Patricia? The Patriots’ calling situation on offense gets murkier

FOXBORO, Mass. – Joe Judge saw where the question was going before it was over. The offensive assistant understands the level of intrigue about the dynamics at the top of the Patriots’ offense. He understands people want to know if he or senior football adviser Matt Patricia will call games for the offense when the regular season starts in less than a month. He knows there are significant questions about how the new offensive scheme is being implemented, as the Patriots defense had the upper hand during training camp.

“I’m just going to say this, and it’s as transparent as it gets,” Judge said. “It’s not a coaching language, it’s not what it is. The job of the assistant coach is very simple: to make the head coach happy. It’s your job. He has a vision for his team, he knows what he wants his team to look like. It’s our job to listen and come out and execute the way he sees it. And that’s the most important thing as an assistant coach. You can’t have 20 head coaches. There is a head coach. It’s our job to make sure that when he speaks in a meeting, we understand what he’s saying and make sure our players can come out and execute that vision. It’s our job, it’s my job. So as far as defined roles or anything, I come to work with a simple policy: whatever (head coach Bill Belichick) says is fine. I’m not the head coach here.

It was a direct answer to a question that came under intense scrutiny after the Patriots’ first preseason game. After Patricia handled most of the play calls in training camp, Judge handled the majority of play calls in Thursday’s exhibition against the team he used to coach, the Giants. from New York. (Patricia called the first two possessions, then Judge took over for the rest of the game.)

So just when it looked like we were going to get some clarity on who would be the team’s de facto offensive coordinator, exhibition play clouded the process. Now, the Patriots are continuing to implement a new offense that has had mixed results so far.

Patricia said it was a collaborative effort. Belichick said there is no competition between the two coaches for the prized call-of-play role like there is for roster players. But as for a more in-depth explanation of what is and will be happening between Judge and Patricia, well…

“We don’t have time for that,” Belichick said. “I appreciate the question, really. I know how much you care about this topic. I wish I could shed some more light on it. But, honestly, it’s a much longer conversation.

Both Patricia and Judge returned to New England after failures as head coaches to land different gigs than those already on their resumes, Judge with quarterbacks and Patricia with the offensive line. They weren’t surprising recruits given their histories with Belichick, but the roles were. Patricia had been a defensive assistant and coordinator with the Patriots from 2006 to 2017, while Judge primarily worked on special teams in New England from 2012 to 2019.

Aside from Belichick, no one on the Patriots team has a bigger job this season. Mac Jones has shown signs of becoming a franchise quarterback as a rookie, and jumps are expected in the second year. Jones’ rates will largely be in the hands of two coaches with little NFL experience on the offensive side of the ball.

“For all of us, I would say the change is a bit uncomfortable,” Patricia said when asked how Jones is faring in the new attack. “So you have to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. This is what makes us progress and grow.

The next 10 days will go a long way in shaping early season expectations and, perhaps, answering questions about Judge and Patricia’s roles. The Patriots host the Panthers for joint workouts Tuesday and Wednesday, sessions that, as Belichick admitted, can sometimes reveal more than preseason games. Then there’s the exhibition game against Carolina on Friday night. There will be more joint practices next week, this time in Las Vegas with the Raiders.

The Patriots are unlikely to release their full roster during this time, but it will surely be more expansive than what we’ve seen so far. Patricia and Judge are implementing a pattern that has caused problems for their defenses, using movement, tight wide receiver splits and zone blocking. It’s a class they’ve never taught before, at least not directly.

So how the offense unfolds in the coming days could be illuminating.

“I’ve been here long enough to not worry about the end process and just enjoy the journey as we go through it and enjoy the process,” Patricia said. “I think if we try to put the cart before the horse and say this is how it’s going to be, maybe we’ll miss something along the way that we could have done differently or changed or improve, and in the end, we would be better off. Here, I learned to appreciate the process and to understand that we are always adapting each day.

(Photo by Joe Judge and Bill Belichick: Winslow Townson/USA Today)

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