The New England Patriots are having a rough season offensively, but how much of that is Bill O'Brien's fault?
The veteran offensive coordinator was hired in the offseason after the Patriots used a combination of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to coach the offense last season -- a tandem that produced horrible on-field results.
O'Brien was expected to help the offense and starting quarterback Mac Jones get back on track. Progress has been hard to come by, though, as the Patriots rank 31st in points scored per game, 26th in total yards per game and 25th in third-down percentage entering Sunday's Week 9 matchup versus the Washington Commanders.
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Could the Patriots make a change at OC in the offseason? Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer joined NBC Sports Boston's Patriots Pregame Live on Sunday to give the latest update on O'Brien's future in Foxboro.
"I think he's on relatively solid ground. I haven't sensed anybody on the staff there, whether it's the front office or the coaching staff, who really thinks that what's happened this year through eight games is remotely his fault," Breer said.
"So if Bill Belichick is somehow back next year, I would expect Bill O'Brien to be back as the offensive coordinator. If Bill Belichick is not back next year and it's Jerod Mayo instead, I think Jerod Mayo would hang on to Bill O'Brien as the offensive coordinator. And I'd even take it a step further, if they bring somebody like Mike Vrabel in, if they were able to trade for Mike Vrabel from Tennessee, Vrabel has got a relationship with him, too. So I think Bill O'Brien is on pretty solid ground here in New England."
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Breer thinks if O'Brien were to leave on his own, the chances are higher than it would be for a college team rather than an NFL franchise.
"The question, of course, would be whether a college program -- I don't think an NFL team will -- but a college program comes along and tries to pluck him because of the experience that he had at Penn State, and Michigan State would be the one that really sticks out as one," Breer said. "That could be a possibility because Bill O'Brien does have experience in the Big 10. He did, of course, deal with a very, very difficult situation when he got to Penn State, the same way he would be if he was going to Michigan State. So there's a possibility he gets a college head coaching job somewhere else.
"But I'd say if he doesn't go back to the college ranks, chances are he'll be back as the Patriots offensive coordinator one way or the other."
An argument could be made that most of the Patriots' struggles offensively are due to a lack of elite talent, not bad coaching. O'Brien can only work with what he's given, and he hasn't been given a whole lot, frankly.