If what former Kansas City return specialist Dante Hall said is true, that “Defensive and offensive linemen control the game, and real sports fans know that.”, then this latest projection from the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports should give the Patriots a fighting chance in 2022. At least as far as protecting the quarterback and trying to score the ball go.
Is there any hope for the Patriots' offense?
ESPN has shared their projections on offensive line pass and run block win rates for the 2022 season and according to their model, the New England Patriots project to have the 10th best offensive line overall in football (the Chiefs and old pal Joe Thuney project as the top O-Line for 2022). Writes Seth Walder of ESPN Analytics (the piece is behind the ESPN+ paywall), “The Patriots lost two fairly strong guards this offseason in Shaq Mason and Ted Karras -- they were ninth and 11th in PBWR last season, respectively, with Karras also finishing 14th in RBWR. But the versatile (Mike) Onwenu is a solid replacement, even though the model will assume Strange is below average -- as it does for all rookies.” Walder also projects the Pats pass blocking to be better than their run blocking, with 10th and 15th place rankings respectively for each, along a line that is in legitimate transition...like many positional groupings on the 2022 Pats.
The 2021 edition of the Pats O-Line was pretty solid, though there was a reasonable degree of change due to injury and productivity, with injuries to both tackles Isaiah Wynn and Trent Brown forcing some tackle substitutions. Guard Mike Onwenu, a rookie revelation in 2020, was replaced by veteran Ted Karras a third of the way through the season. Shaq Mason was perhaps the most dependable member of the line, grading out as Pro Football Focus’s highest ranked Patriot of 2021. Karras is now in Cincinnati, replaced by Onwenu, who has struggled yet again to maintain a foothold on a starting guard job. Veterans James Ferentz and Arlington Hambright (that’s a football player, not a British soccer club) have also seen time at guard during Training Camp 2022. Shaq Mason, traded in the offseason to Tampa Bay, is being replaced by rookie first round pick Cole Strange, who has had his expected ups and downs in camp thus far. David Andrews has returned from the PUP following offseason surgery, to steady the line at center. Meanwhile tackles Brown and Wynn have switched sides, with Brown returning to left tackle where he dominated in 2018, and Wynn taking the right side after playing LT for the Pats, whenever heathy, for the past four seasons. Plus offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo has departed for the Las Vegas Raiders, replaced by special offensive assistant Matt Patricia, who’s rumored to be the offensive coordinator, thereby leaving assistant Billy Yates as the O-Line coach at times.
That’s a whole lot of change for a group that’s supposed to be in the upper echelon or at least top third of the league’s lines. Yet change, from scheme to personnel to coaching, seems to be the only true constant thus far for the 2022 Patriots. And with just over a month from the start of the season questions aplenty emerge for this group.
Can Trent Brown stay healthy for a full season? Can Strange overcome rookie mistakes and play anywhere near what lead the Pats to move on from mason and take him in the first round? Can Andrews, considered one of the league’s top centers, stay healthy for the season and continue to be the ballast of the line? Can Onwenu regain his form and place as one of the bright young guards of the league? And can Wynn, in a contract year, take to the opposite tackle spot and further his quality 2021 run block win rates? And can all these questions be addressed properly by an O-Line coaching staff that has it’s own unique issues, if you will. These questions will need to be addressed and answered in a positive manner for the Pats to validate the ESPN ranking. Or at least compete in and win games this season as many other positional groups address their own issues as well.
“The heart and soul of any good football team is its offensive line.” Well, if these 2022 Patriots are to go anywhere, than the five starters will need to show a whole lot of heart, and plenty of soul, to give a team in major transition the lifeblood, running lanes and pass protection time they’ll need to even compete in the improved AFC East and conference overall.