The New England Patriots offensive line has struggled with continuity the last few weeks. One of the moving parts was at center, where starter David Andrews missed the previous two games after sustaining a concussion in Week 7 versus the Chicago Bears.
Andrews returned to practice before the Patriots headed into their bye week, though, and is in line to play against the New York Jets this week. His return is good news for the battered O-line, and will give New England one of its most experienced and most valuable players back just in time to face one of the NFL’s best defensive lines.
“It’s always good to get players back. Always good to get good players back. So, we never turn that down,” said head coach Bill Belichick earlier this week.
“David does a great job for us. I think James [Ferentz] did a good job when he was in there. I don’t think that was an issue.”
With Andrews out against the Jets and the Indianapolis Colts in Weeks 8 and 9, respectively, New England turned to veteran backup James Ferentz to replace him. Ferentz provided some stability given his experience in the system, but the offense as a whole struggled mightily versus those two teams.
A big part of it was the play up front. Quarterback Mac Jones, for example, was sacked 10 times and pressured on a combined 30 of his drop backs — a pressure rate of 38.5 percent, clearly above the team average over the first seven weeks of the season with Andrews in the lineup (26.0%).
Jones being happy to see his starting center return should therefore not come as any surprise.
“David’s a great leader on our team,” the sophomore QB said on Wednesday. “He’s played against a lot of different defenses, played on some really good teams, so he provides that positive energy and obviously is a great football player, but it’s a lot of the other things too. He’s kind of the bell cow of that whole deal.
“He does a great job. I’m really happy with him and everybody else, too. They’re doing a really good job just trying to work together and get better at individual techniques. That’s what I even noticed today, just the little things that guys are trying to work through. All that is really important.”
As for the man himself, he is obviously happy to be back on the field.
“Feeling good. Excited to be back and to go play the game that I love,” Andrews told reporters on Wednesday.
With the Jets coming to town, however, Andrews needs to shake off any rust quickly. Not only did they pressure Jones on 38.6 percent of his drop-backs in Week 8, they also had several negative plays on the ground.
In total, New England registered seven runs for negative yardage on top of six sacks as well as two passing plays that lost ground. Moving backward on 18.7 percent of offensive snaps (14 of 75 non-kneel-downs) did ultimately not cost the Patriots — they ended up winning 22-17 — but it is not a performance the offense can follow if it wants to beat the Jets again.
Part of it was New York’s defensive line being one of the best in the game. Another part, however, was the Patriots’ blockers simply not being up to the task and having too many blown assignments.
Heading into Sunday, that needs to change. The Jets D-line, after all, will continue to put pressure on the unit.
“It’s a really good group,” Andrews said. “Really well-coached group. It’s a big challenge for us, obviously. They had a great game plan a couple of weeks ago when we played them, had a really good game against the Bills two weeks ago. It’ll be a big challenge. We have to do things, can’t hurt ourselves — penalties, stay out of long yardage, things like that where maybe they are not able to tee it up on 3rd-and-10, 11, 12.”