Why are Patriots newcomers Mike Gesicki, JuJu Smith-Schuster struggling?


It is easy to forget the New England Patriots acquired tight end Mike Gesicki, and receiver JuJu Schnuster in the offseason. After three weeks, neither player has played a major role in the offensive. It’s fair that this is a surprising development, considering Smith-Schuster was expected to be New England’s main slot receiver while Gesicki would have been a tight end under Bill O’Brien’s system which favors tight ends.

Smith-Schuster signed a three-year, $25.5 million deal with New England. Gesicki has signed a $4.5 million, one-year deal with the Patriots. Smith-Schuster had 10 catches and 66 yards in the first three games. Gesicki’s nine catches have a total of 87 yards. Neither player has a touchdown.

That’s an unimpressive set of stats for an offense that is simultaneously crowded and yet lacking — all at once. Smith-Schuster competes for snaps against DeVante Park, Kendrick Boune and rookie Deario Douglas. Gesicki competes against Hunter Henry, and now Pharaoh brown who is primarily used as a blocking tight-end. You can also probably see why I labeled this team as lacking. New England has a higher number of No. New England has more No. The league has more options, 3 in total, than any other team. But they don’t even have a “No”. The Patriots’ tight end and receiver rooms look a lot like a closet that someone has rearranged after a day of thrift-store shopping. But nothing really fits. Nothing really fits.

In week 3, when the Patriots’ skilled players were at full health Smith-Schuster accounted for 74% of offensive snaps, while Gesicki accounted for 47%. It was a game plan that emphasized running against the Jets. Gesicki played 72% of snaps for the team against the Dolphins the week before. Gesicki, who is helping the Patriots improve their passing game to save their season (0-2) is my pick. Smith-Schuster, on the other hand, might not. This puts him sixth among pass catchers in the NFL. Smith Schuster is doing a good job of averaging 2.8 yards for each route run. This is on par with Amon Ra St. Brown and Justin Jefferson. It’s pretty good, isn’t it?

But there’s a problem: Smith-Schuster has the second-worst yardage after the catch compared to what was expected. He averages minus-2 yards in this category. That means he gets two less after the catch than you would expect from a receiver. This is obviously a bad thing. Van Jefferson, a Rams receiver, has the only NFL receiving record worse than this one. And Gesicki isn’t doing much better, with minus-1.1, which ties him at sixth-worst.

[McKenna: Patriots will need an alpha to emerge on offense if they want to sniff playoffs]

As a team, the Patriots actually rank seventh in the NFL in YAC with 376. Rhamondre Stephenson (85), Bourne (51), and Brown (49) are the main contributors. Brown’s YAC was all derived from a 58 yard touchdown last week. The Patriots are in desperate need of YAC in order to make big plays because their deep game does not work. Mac Jones, the Patriots’ quarterback, is only 3-of-18 from that distance. The good news is? The good news? He doesn’t throw interceptions, which shows his ability to make sound decisions. The bad news? Is Mac Jones the Patriots long-term QB answer? These two pass-catchers, Gesicki and Smith-Schuster, are not traditional deep threats. Gesicki could make a big difference, especially if he starts to generate more YAC. Tom Brady has left the team. Henry and Gesicki don’t look like Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots throw the ball a great deal, with 125 attempts at passing (fourth most in NFL). The Patriots are not converting enough yards from their attempts (six yard per attempt is the sixth worst in NFL), nor are they completing enough passes (64.8% is 12th in NFL). They lack explosiveness. They don’t have a threat in the red zone. Jones’ deep throws to the receiver on Sundy, for instance. Jones threw a couple of balls that were virtually uncatchable close to the sideline. These were fades from the back shoulder. Smith-Schuster wasn’t nearby. Why? O’Brien said that the receiver had the most to blame, as he was not able to get the throw in the correct spot. O’Brien stated that it can be difficult to simulate this early in the season. “It’s repetition. This is not an excuse. We have to practice them more and make sure we get those hits in practice. Close is not good enough. It’s all about timing. It’s all about trust. Jones and Smith-Schuster don’t seem to have it yet. And Jones and Smith-Schuster don’t seem to have it yet.

Receivers coach Troy Brown said that Smith-Schuster’s chemistry with Jones might have a delayed development due to the receiver’s injury that held him out of OTAs and minicamp. The obvious solution for a situation like this would be to use a receiver who has a good chemistry with Jones. Jakobi Meyers is one example. He signed a $33 million, three-year contract with the Las Vegas Raiders in this offseason. New England preferred Smith-Schuster, even though he would have cost them $8 million less. They were willing to risk him being a misfit for the offense. He’s definitely not a good fit in the offense. Smith-Schuster does not look like a wide receiver that deserves to be given more targets or snaps. He’s actually playing so poorly that I wonder if rookie receiver Demario Doug deserves more touches. Maybe Smith-Schuster is slipping due to his knee injury.

. Perhaps that’s because he has struggled to grapple with the offense, which he admitted was a massive challenge upon his arrival with the Patriots.

“I’m bothered because we work so hard, day in and day out,” Smith-Schuster said last week when talking about the team’s 0-2 start. “

we put in the effort as a team, but still fall short. It’s frustrating. You’re like someone who goes home, studies all night and keeps going. You’re so close. You need an A+ in order to pass, but you only get a B. It’s the worst ever feeling. “

Smith-Schuster is going to have to start showing separation and YAC skills that he hasn’t if his performances — and the team performances — are going to improve.

It’s a little different for Gesicki. Stats and film show that he could help the Patriots. Bill Belichick says he is more of a receiver. Gesicki does not do much blocking but should be able get good matchups when it comes to the passing game. Linebackers will have trouble covering him. Gesicki is a strong performer on downfield routes, and this accounts for a large part of his separation statistics. The Patriots need to find more chances for Jones to connect with his tight end. This could help the TE quickly generate more YAC. This could be an indication that Smith-Schuster is not taking advantage of his opportunities. For Gesicki — maybe just maybe — they’re not giving him enough chances.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on twitter at


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