Pieces in place for McDaniels

By Greg A. Bedard
Globe Staff / August 2, 2012
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FOXBOROUGH — Don’t screw it up, Josh.

That should be the sentiment from Patriots fans toward “new” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

McDaniels, Episode II (the Hoodie Strikes Back?) was handed an offense that averaged 32.1 points per game last season, and that relied on two tight ends and a 5-foot-9-inch receiver exclusively.

Then McDaniels received basically anything he wanted.

“Hey, Josh, need that vertical threat we never had after trading Randy Moss? Maybe even the kind who we know can actually function in the offense?”

“Here’s, Brandon Lloyd, the most productive guy you’ve had outside of New England.”

“What about a few veterans who know you, this system, and actually can run down the field?”

“Jabar Gaffney and Donté Stallworth are waiting in the locker room.”

“You want fullbacks, too?”

“How about three, including one, Spencer Larsen, who you had in Denver?”

Wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots offered a personal assistant to chauffeur McDaniels to and from Gillette Stadium, another to take notes, and someone else to rub his feet at night.

Seriously, could the Patriots have teed up McDaniels any more heading into this season?

Maybe only if Josh Beckett was pitching.

Basically, whatever McDaniels wanted, McDaniels got.

So anything less than a 2007-esque assault on the record books should be viewed as a serious disappointment.

But fans don’t appear to be very restless about McDaniels. Maybe they shouldn’t be.

Inside the walls of Fort Gillette, McDaniels is widely viewed as the smartest person in the building not named Bill Belichick. And has been for some time.

Steve Spagnuolo, McDaniels’s boss last season with the Rams, called him “as good a game-day caller as I’ve ever been around.”

“He’s so sharp, very smart, knows how to attack a defense,” said Spagnuolo, who worked with a few good offensive coordinators with the Eagles and Giants.

McDaniels’s return has been hailed as a triumph in many corners of Patriots Nation, who have viewed him as the Boy Wonder of Offense.

Conversely, the man McDaniels preceded and now succeeds — Bill O’Brien — was consistently second-guessed and poked by fans.

Some couldn’t wait for O’Brien to leave. There’s even a conspiracy theory that once McDaniels was fired (for the second straight year, mind you) and available, Belichick worked it so O’Brien would take the Penn State job and open up the spot for McDaniels, Belichick’s preferred offensive coordinator.

Yes, that’s out there.

Not sure exactly what O’Brien lacked that McDaniels seems to have, but it was amazing how the local fans never took to O’Brien, who was actually one of them, having been born in Dorchester and raised in Andover.

Did O’Brien not smile enough? Did he lack McDaniels’s boyish charm? Did O’Brien not look as good in his baseball cap?

It likely comes back to what the Patriots did in ’07, which happens to be the last time that McDaniels — or any New England offensive coordinator — was set up this good.

Moss was acquired, held out of the preseason, and then unleashed on the NFL the first week of the season. Wes Welker arrived and quickly became the best inside receiver in the game. Combined, they caught more than half of Tom Brady’s passes. They sprinkled in three players, Kevin Faulk, Gaffney, and Stallworth, who were in their prime as threats, and the rest was NFL history.

The league had no idea what hit it, or how to stop it — until the Super Bowl.

Compare that to what O’Brien had to work with.

Welker and Moss nearly matched their ’07 output in ’09 without any help. Julian Edelman, Sam Aiken, Chris Baker, and Joey Galloway anyone?

Apparently that wasn’t difficult enough for O’Brien, because 2010 looked like one of those Tough Mudder courses with which people love to torture themselves.

You had Welker not near 100 percent coming back early from knee surgery.

Then Moss was traded and replaced by Deion Branch, who was 31 and not nearly the whole-field threat he was the first time around.

So O’Brien had to change the offense, figure out what two rookie tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) were capable of, use a castoff undersized running back from the Jets named Danny Woodhead, and try to get something out of receivers Brandon Tate and Taylor Price.

The Patriots only led the league in scoring, averaging 32.4 points per game, and Brady became the first player to be named MVP in a unanimous vote.

You’d think that kind of output would have earned O’Brien favored status in New England.

Nope. When the Patriots’ offense went through a lull in 2011 — thanks to an elbow injury to Brady — O’Brien was the one being ripped on local airwaves.

Never mind that the Patriots traded for a dud receiver in Chad Johnson, rightfully gave up on Tate and Price, and had somebody named Tiquan Underwood being thrown to in the end zone trying to close out a road victory against the Redskins.

Oh, did we mention the ’11 defense was 31st in the league in yards allowed and 15th in points allowed? (The ’07 unit was fourth in both areas to set up the offense with more touches.)

No, it was O’Brien’s fault. The gall of him putting up only 32.1 points per game (third in the league).

The reason? He wasn’t Josh. It wasn’t ’07. They weren’t 16-0.

Patriots fans don’t want to hear that outside of ’07, McDaniels’s offenses averaged 23.7, 24.1, 25.6 (when Brady was injured and McDaniels did yeoman’s work), 20.4, 21.5, and 21 points per game. The final three numbers were put up with the Broncos (two years) and Rams.

But now McDaniels is back with Brady. Just like ’07, McDaniels has been given all the tools he should need — and certainly more than O’Brien ever received.

McDaniels needs to deliver. Anything less than a record-setting season — and a Super Bowl title, which neither McDaniels nor O’Brien won calling plays — should be viewed as a failure.

Don’t drop the ball, Josh.

Greg A. Bedard can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @gregabedard.

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