While projected as one of the best units in the league entering the regular season, the New England Patriots’ offensive line has actually proven itself as a major Achilles heel for the team early this year. While individual performance has been an issue, the biggest problem for the group was its lack of stability.
Over the first seven games of the season, the Patriots used five different starting lineups and ten different players. Be it due to injury or a lack of production, New England was unable to find a group worth keeping around in the long haul.
Until now, that is. Seven weeks into the season, after all, it appears as if the Patriots have finally found their starting offensive line — at least for the time being.
When the team’s offense took the field against the New York Jets on Sunday, the following group lined up in front of quarterback Mac Jones:
Patriots starting offensive line: Week 7
While three of the players aligned exactly where they had early in the season — left tackle Isaiah Wynn, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason — the other two spots were filled by newcomers in a sense.
Veteran offseason reacquisition Ted Karras, who served as a backup early in the season before starting back-to-back games in place of an injured Shaq Mason, took over at left guard. It was his first start at the position in six season as an NFL offensive lineman, but he performed well as both a pass protector and a run blocker.
The same goes for Michael Onwenu. The second-year blocker originally started at left guard but returned from a stint on the Covid-19 reserve list (together with Isaiah Wynn) as the starting right tackle. The position is not an entirely new one for Onwenu, who played it extensively during his 2020 rookie season and started a total of 10 games there.
Despite the personnel turnover, the Wynn-Karras-Andrews-Mason-Onwenu lineup had an impressive outing against a solid Jets defensive front.
Not only did the Patriots end up gaining a season-high 151 yards rushing on 29 non-kneel-down carries — a strong average of 5.2 yards per run — they also gave up only one sack and four additional quarterback hits. The performance up front may not have been perfect, and the Jets are among the worst overall teams in football, but it was still a big step in the right direction for a unit that appeared to have little perspective just earlier this year.
“We’ve been working our tails off, trying to get better,” said David Andrews after the 54-13 win over the Jets. “Had some frustrating performances. We come to work each day trying to get better. It was good to rush for what we did today, protect the quarterback for the most part and punch it in on the goal line a few times. Definitely makes you feel good.”
While the lineup is the best available at the moment, and has looked good in its first game action together, the long-term outlook of the group remains somewhat uncertain.
Not only did Shaq Mason leave the game against New York with an abdominal injury in the fourth quarter — the departure seemed to be related to load management more than anything else, though — nominal starting right tackle Trent Brown is now also eligible to return off injured reserve. Brown’s eventual comeback will shake up the group once again, and possibly have it return to its Week 1 configuration of Wynn-Onwenu-Andrews-Mason-Brown.
Until that happens, however, New England should feel pretty good about where it is at up front. Just ask running back Damien Harris.
“There’s not a group of guys that I’d rather play with,” he said after Sunday’s game against New York. “Showing up every day to work, those are some of the hardest working guys on our team and it shows. We’ve got a lot of guys that move around and there’s a lot of changing parts, but when you look at it, the reason we have success is because of those guys. They set the tone for our offense. They protect our quarterback. They open up running lanes for our backs. So, they’re really the anchor of our offense and I think personally the anchor of our team.
“They do a great job day in and day out, working at practice and then it shows up in the game. It’s a huge advantage to have guys like that that can rotate, play different positions, do different things, and still be able to go out there and put together a very strong unit that, like I said, protects our quarterback, opens up lanes for our running backs. So it was great. Super proud of those guys. Love competing with them, love stepping on the field with them, so it’s been a lot of fun so far playing with those guys.”