Sports Sunday

Is Bill O'Brien's Patriots offense being handcuffed by Bill Belichick?

O'Brien hasn't got much talent to work with on offense, and that's not his fault.

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Just when you think the New England Patriots offense can't look any worse, it finds new ways to sink to a new low.

The Patriots were shut out for the second time this season in a 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Sunday's Week 13 game at Gillette Stadium. They tallied just 257 total yards with zero touchdowns. The offensive line gave up five sacks, including several on third and fourth down that ended promising drives.

New England's offense is now the lowest-scoring unit in the league at 12.3 points per game. This group has scored more than 20 points just once in 12 matchups.

Under normal circumstances, any offense averaging fewer than two touchdowns per game while looking totally inept on a consistent basis would often result in the offensive coordinator being fired.

But the offense's issues might not entirely be offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's fault, as Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer explained on NBC Sports Boston's Sports Sunday after the Patriots' Week 13 defeat.

"I've talked to people inside the organization who feel Bill O'Brien isn't allowed to run the offense that he brought in," Breer said. "(Head coach) Bill (Belichick) basically tells him, 'This is what I want this week, this is what we're looking for,' and he works within those constraints. I mean, as recently as last night, somebody said to me in defense of Bill O'Brien, 'I don't think he's able to run everything that he learned as the head coach at Houston, as the head coach at Penn State, working at Alabama,' like all of the new-fangled stuff -- that's where the game is going.

"Some of that stuff, he's not able to run it to the level maybe he's learned to run it because of the restrictions here. And I think you can even see some of that in the way that they started games early in the year against Miami, against Philadelphia, before the talent issue kind of got to a critical mass. 

"The way they came out of the gate, you could see some of the ingenuity, you could see some of the rhythm in what they were doing. All of that looks like it's gone now. And I know that there are at least some people who feel like part of it is the restrictions Bill (Belichick) is putting on him."

It's hard to fault O'Brien too much if he's not being allowed to put his stamp on the offense. And if that is what's actually going on, then we really don't know what a true O'Brien-led offense in New England would look like. Should the Patriots fire O'Brien before they see how the offense performs when he's able to coach it his way? Probably not.

At the end of the day, most of the blame belongs to Belichick, despite whether he's putting constraints on O'Brien, because he's responsible for the roster. Belichick is the reason why the offensive side of the ball is severely lacking in high-end talent at every position.

Even the best offensive coordinators likely wouldn't have much success with what O'Brien had to work with Sunday against the Chargers.

So it'll be interesting to see what happens with O'Brien during the offseason. If Belichick leaves and a new head coach is brought in, maybe that person will want to hire his own coordinators.

It's not like O'Brien deserves zero blame. He should definitely take some of it. He's coaching these players and helping install the game plan each week. But you can only work with what you've got, and he doesn't have much.

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