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Patriots need to use the bye week to find an offensive line configuration that sticks

Related: Getting David Andrews back is good news for the Patriots’ battered offensive line

New England Patriots Training Camp Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The New England Patriots’ offense has had several problems over the last few weeks, and one of the biggest has been a lack of stability up front. The team’s offensive line, after all, experienced multiple changes, seemingly contributing to the entire offense’s uneven play.

The Patriots started the season with the group that established itself as the top-level O-line during the summer. Trent Brown lined up at left tackle, with first-round rookie Cole Strange at left guard, team captain David Andrews in his usual spot at center, Michael Onwenu at right guard, and ex-left tackle Isaiah Wynn on the right end of the line.

Brown-Strange-Andrews-Onwenu-Wynn: The unit had its ups and downs — a continuation from training camp — but the belief was that it would improve the more experience its members would gain playing alongside one another. That did indeed happen, but only to a degree. After all, a series of problems hurt the New England O-line recently: bad individual play at right tackle, Andrews suffering a concussion in Week 7, and Strange hitting a rough patch.

The group’s issues led to some movement in three of the five spots: Strange was benched each of the last two games; James Ferentz had to take over for Andrews; Marcus Cannon and Yodny Cajuste both saw action at right tackle instead of Wynn.

As a result, the offensive line has not held up its end of the bargain the last two weeks; surrendering a combined 30 quarterback pressures the last two weeks, including 10 sacks, and seeing several run plays get shut down before gaining any significant yardage. In the grand scheme of things those problems might not matter too much — New England still won both games and four of its last five — but they still need to be addressed.

The current bye week is a good time to do that, especially when it comes to the recent lack of personnel stability. Frankly, there is no better time than now to commit to a configuration that sticks.

There are several options the Patriots could use, but only a handful are realistic. They are as follows, from left to right:

Brown-Strange-Andrews-Onwenu-Wynn: Let’s go back to the unit already mentioned above. The original starting offensive line for the 2022 season might still be the best one for the Patriots moving forward because it allows the team to get its five best players on the field together. They need to work through some issues — Wynn in particular has not looked good — but the upside is apparent.

Brown-Strange-Andrews-Onwenu-Cajuste: This is largely the same lineup as the one above, but with one notable exception: former first-round draft pick Isaiah Wynn is not part of it. Instead, the Patriots would go with Yodny Cajuste at right tackle after he already filled that role in Week 9 versus the Indianapolis Colts. Alternatively, veteran Marcus Cannon, who is on injured reserve, could also fill that gig.

Brown-Strange-Andrews-Wynn-Onwenu: This configuration would again allow New England to get its nominal top five onto the field, but with one change: Isaiah Wynn and Michael Onwenu would trade places. Why? Wynn had issues setting his depth on the outside and moving him to guard — a position he already played the last two weeks, albeit on the left side — would not allow teams to expose those. And given that Onwenu has proven himself capable no matter where he lines up, this one would make sense as well.

Wynn-Strange-Andrews-Onwenu-Brown: How about a blast from the not-too-distant past? This formation would keep the interior intact, but have Wynn and Brown flip sides again. Why they were moved in the first place is anyone’s guess, but the change has resulted in Wynn’s play dropping off significantly (whereas Brown’s stayed relatively even). Returning him to his natural left side might help him again reach his previous levels of play, which were actually quite high when he was not plagued by his frequent injuries.

As can be seen, the Patriots’ coaching staff has options. Now it is all about finding the right combination before the team returns to the field in Week 11 to take on a talented New York Jets front.

“You’re a lot better off when you’re playing with the same five guys week-in, week-out so they can develop continuity and consistency in the things they do and how they do it,” former New England offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia recently said on the The Next Pats Podcast. “When they get all those guys back in there, hopefully it’ll work out the way we all want to see it work out.”

What should help the unit improve instantly, though, is the return of David Andrews. The team captain has been cleared to take the field again after missing the last two games in concussion protocol. He was back at practice on Wednesday.

Andrews is a highly valuable player due to his leadership and communication skills as well as his blocking prowess and ability to set protections. The Patriots O-line is without a doubt a better one with him in the lineup.

The other four spots, however, still do not appear to be 100 percent settled given what transpired over the last few weeks. Luckily for New England, there is still a bit of time to finally figure things out.