How the New England Patriots offensive line has sunk the team

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 12: Trent Brown #77 of the New England Patriots and David Andrews #60 defend against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 12: Trent Brown #77 of the New England Patriots and David Andrews #60 defend against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium on December 12, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

A lot was expected of the 2022 New England Patriots. They came off a playoff year and while they were summarily crushed twice by the Buffalo Bills including in their lone playoff game, things still seemed to point upward for 2022. That is until they didn’t.

The 2022 team under now second-year quarterback Mac Jones seemed poised to possibly take the next step up the ladder to competitiveness in the AFC East. While the Buffalo demolitions were troubling indeed, they had an opportunity to remedy some shortcomings in the offseason.

Unfortunately, they didn’t remedy almost any of their deficiencies. In fact, they seriously and deliberately subtracted from a solid offensive line and didn’t replace players who were lost or try to better those who remained.

There are many reasons including offensive coaching that helped derail the 2022 Patriot offense but on the field, the offensive line is a major one.

The New England Patriots offensive line was gutted

First, let’s get this firmly held-opinion out of the way. The offensive line after the quarterback is the most important component and unit on any football team. The big guys up front are critical to the teams’ overall success.

So how did the Patriots nurture this unit in the 2021 offseason? Well, they didn’t. Rather, they weakened it considerably.

First, they traded stellar former fourth-round pick guard Shaq Mason. Mason was a decent pass blocker but a road-grading run blocker. One of the best. He was dealt to Tampa Bay. Then, they allowed (for the second time) dual-positioned, and valued guard/center starter/backup Ted Karras to leave for Cincinnati.

One of these moves would have been questionable. Two were inexplicable. Two interior line starters from the playoff season were summarily dumped. Depth was also nearly non-existent even before they were jettisoned. Work had to be done. It was, and it wasn’t good work.

To make up for the loss of one, the Patriots used a first-round pick on a guard. They reached way above consensus value in the draft for that player, Cole Strange rated by many as maybe a third-round talent.

He started well enough, though Mac Jones was sacked to the hilt. Strange was ultimately benched by Bill Belichick until injuries forced him back into the lineup by default. Forget ever drafting a guard not named John Hannah in the first round. Mason was a fourth and Karras was a sixth-round pick.

In addition, another former first-round pick, Isiah Wynn had been an oft-injured borderline bust at left tackle. Wynn can’t play left tackle and wound up logically being placed at right tackle with their best tackle, Trent Brown going to left tackle.

He couldn’t play there (unexpectedly here, frankly) either. And now, unfortunately, Wynn is unavailable due to injury anyway.

The New England Patriots neglected offensive tackle and O-line depth

The need to replace Mason and Karras was blatant. Wynn’s ineffectiveness also was critical. The misplaced position, and reach for Strange in the first round were severely detrimental.

Above all the team needed to add an offensive tackle or two, one maybe to snatch the starting role from Wynn and another for depth. Wynn was unreliable at best and often injured. Trent Brown also could be injured from time to time. Behind them, there were no NFL-caliber tackles.

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The situation screamed for a first-round offensive left tackle. The choice here was Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa. The Pats not only didn’t trade up to get Penning, but they also didn’t take any offensive tackle until the seventh round and that player hasn’t seen the field.

All this has led to a terrible passing attack with Jones throwing for only seven touchdowns in 11 games. He’s also been sacked 26 times in 11 games. Only some extraordinary running by Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris has allowed the running game to shine.

This season will likely end unceremoniously in about a month. Then it’s time to rebuild the O-line. The prescription here is simple. First, draft an offensive left tackle on your first pick preferably in the first round. Then, take another offensive tackle in the mid-rounds, third to fifth.  A guard later would also be nice.

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Signing an established offensive tackle to start in Wynn’s place (his contract runs out this season) at right tackle wouldn’t be a bad idea while grooming the first-round and other tackle picks to follow.

The offensive line has been ravaged by injury and illness this season. Holes must be filled to bring it back to excellence. But don’t bet on it.

The New England Patriots usually zig when everyone else thinks they should zag. Don’t be surprised if they don’t do much with the offensive line. Old ways in Foxborough are hard to break. It is what it is.