Perry: Deciphering the play-calling duties during the preseason opener


FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick said don't worry about it. The Patriots will figure it out.

But it's unclear as to when an offensive play-caller will be determined at One Patriot Place. And Belichick didn't want to provide much more insight into the situation on Thursday night after his team's preseason opener, other than to say the Patriots are going through a "process" to determine how the coaching operation will function.

What we can do, though, is decipher what we see on the sidelines. And we saw quite a bit when the Giants visited Gillette Stadium.

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Senior football advisor and offensive line coach Matt Patricia called the offensive plays to start the game for the Patriots. Offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach Joe Judge was nearby and appeared to be taking notes on his play sheet as Patricia read off of his. Belichick, meanwhile, mostly gave them their space with his arms folded.

After the first offensive series of the game, Patricia and Judge's titles made sense. Patricia took a knee in front of the team's offensive linemen, pointing at a tablet, doing some coaching. Judge was on a knee in front of the team's quarterbacks on the opposite end of the offensive bench area. Patricia met briefly with Thursday's starting passer Brian Hoyer on the sidelines before Hoyer headed back out to the field for a second series, but there did not appear to be an extended meeting between play-caller and quarterback at that point.

During the second New England series, a timeout was called with just under a minute remaining in the first quarter. Hoyer walked to the sideline and was met by the three-headed offensive braintrust: Patricia, Judge and Belichick. It was Patricia and Hoyer who did the talking.

The one instance when Belichick seemed to interject on the operation with Patricia relaying signals was during a goal-line situation. Belichick gestured emphatically in Patricia and Judge's direction after a run for no gain by JJ Taylor left the Patriots at the New York two-yard line with 39 seconds left in the first quarter. Next play: touchdown pass from Hoyer to Tyquan Thornton.

Patricia celebrated on the sideline and was congratulated by everyone from running back Damien Harris to tight end Jonnu Smith to strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera and director of organization development Daryl Nelson.

Patricia said something to Hoyer as Hoyer came off the field and then eventually -- after a brief interaction with Dan Famosi, the team's head of IT, who deals with the on-field communication system -- followed Hoyer to the quarterback's end of the bench where Judge was already poring over a Microsoft Surface. As Patricia chatted with Hoyer, Judge went over things with Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. After a short conversation with Belichick and a quip to Jones, Patricia headed over to the offensive line for more discussion.

That would be it for Patricia as the play-caller for the night. Two series with Hoyer and the play-calling duties were handed over to Judge. For the remainder of the game, it was Judge who stepped to the forefront on the sidelines and relayed plays to Zappe.

Though Patricia was done calling plays, something happened after Zappe's first series -- a three-play drive that lost 17 yards -- that made it look even more like Patricia was the leader on that side of the ball. Belichick had some words for the receivers and backs, but Patricia stepped in and had the entire offense huddle around him so he could deliver a message.

Judge was the play-caller at that point. And he was on the sideline waiting for Zappe after the rookie's first preseason series as a pro. But Patricia -- after witnessing three penalties called against the offense -- looked like the guy in charge.

For the remainder of the night, we tried to sort out the roles for Patriots coaches.

Patricia carried a play-call sheet, but he was clearly the offensive line coach. Judge called the plays and worked extensively with the quarterbacks between series. There were moments when Patricia cornered Zappe for a word. There were moments when Belichick pulled Zappe aside and spoke to him for extended periods of time. But Judge was with Zappe more than anyone, oftentimes listening in as Belichick coached up his rookie fourth-round passer.

One interesting development over the course of the game was that Billy Yates -- the assistant offensive line coach who has taken on more responsibility when Patricia has been called away during camp practices to work with quarterbacks and pass-catchers -- was not on the sideline during the first half. One would presume he was in a coaches box above the field at the press level and able to communicate with Patricia from there.

But in the second half, Yates worked his way down to the field and was on the sidelines coaching up players in person. Patricia still appeared to run the offensive line between series sideline meetings, but Yates was there to address players as well. Perhaps Belichick wanted to get a feel for how things functioned when Yates was at field level versus in the box.

David Andrews also took a few different opportunities to look like a coach on the field. He didn't play Thursday so he had time to address the entire offensive line unit on a few different occasions.

"He's a five-time team captain," Belichick said. "I wouldn't say that's a big surprise ... We had good leadership from all our veteran players, a whole lot of different guys out there. They were great on the sideline, encouraging the players who were playing and trying to help them out. Coaches were trying to do their same job. At the same time the veteran players were very supportive, with great instruction and help.

"I'll go right down the line. There's a lot of guys that didn't play, and I know I noticed many, many of them if not all of them being part of that. That was kind of their role tonight, and I thought they did a good job with it."

Because there are no titles to lean on, no public proclamations from players or coaches themselves as to how coaching roles have been specified, we're left to sort out what we can based on what we see.

What we saw Thursday looked like Patricia was the offensive coordinator when the offensive regulars were on the field. It looked like Belichick tried to stay out of the way from snap to snap, but he looked very involved between series. It looked like Judge was the backup play-caller, getting some experience with Thursday's backups.

Switching up who relayed the plays may be "beneficial in the long run," Belichick said after. There remain a variety of questions, though, surrounding this situation.

How beneficial is the current setup in the short run, with the first Patriots game less than a month away? How long will it take for Belichick to get through the process of settling on a full-time play-caller? And might he end up doing it himself at some point?

What played out on the Patriots sidelines did little to answer those questions and others. In fact, after 11 training camp practices when Patricia looked like the clearcut play-caller, Thursday's action only seemed to muddy the waters.

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