After showing flashes early in the year in victories over Miami and Las Vegas along with a closely-contested road loss at Seattle in Week 2, New England’s offense has all but disappeared. As a result, the Patriots have sunk to a dismal 2-4 on the year, their worst start since 2000 (also New England’s last losing season under Bill Belichick).
With New England’s broken offense in the gutter—a problem that figures to get worse before it gets better with Julian Edelman out indefinitely—what can the Patriots do to climb out of their nightmare rut? It’s a good question and one the Patriots don’t seem particularly close to answering. Josh McDaniels’ famously intricate offense has often proven difficult for newcomers to grasp and ex-Patriot Mohamed Sanu suspects the complex nature of that scheme is at least partially to blame for New England’s early-season struggles.
“It was definitely a hard playbook,” admitted Sanu in a profile penned by Sports Illustrated scribe Albert Breer. “That offense was much different. It was a harder process. You had to study. You had to figure out how to master it.” Sanu, who the Patriots released at the conclusion of training camp this summer, claims he knew the Falcons’ offense like “the back of [his] hand.” But New England’s dense playbook was a different animal.
“The way they practiced was a lot different than the way we practiced, the way I practiced in Atlanta,” said Sanu, describing the marked leap in intensity going from business as usual in Atlanta to the cutthroat atmosphere of Foxboro. “[In Atlanta], they would manage your reps, so you’d be fresh for the game. But in New England, we’d take every rep, just so we could build chemistry. All the starters took every rep.”
While Sanu understands why New England operates that way, trying to build chemistry and cohesion through heavy repetition at practice, he fears the Pats might be overdoing it. “It would just burn people out, you could get injured, that’s how I thought of it. A lot of people pulled stuff,” said Sanu, who was rarely healthy during his New England tenure. “There’s no need for you to play 60 plays in a game and take four periods of nine plays—take nine plays each period … That’s 36 plays each day on top of the game reps. It’s a lot.”
Fed-up fans not used to this level of mediocrity are banging down Belichick’s door, clamoring for the receiver-needy Pats to acquire a big name like Will Fuller or A.J. Green at the upcoming trade deadline. But given the concerns raised by Sanu, who lasted a mere eight games (nine if you include the playoffs) in New England, would either of them be able to pick up McDaniels’ scheme fast enough to actually make a difference?
It’s equally plausible that Sanu, who is currently a free agent (the Niners tried him on for size last month before cutting him two weeks later), just wasn’t cut out for Foxboro. Whether the problem is New England not finding the right players or Belichick’s playbook not being accessible enough, the Patriots, for the life of them, can’t seem to get it right at wide receiver.