If Pro Football Focus grades are your gospel, today’s your lucky day, and if you think PFF grades are more or less football nerd CalvinBall, then, well, at least they’re usually much more enjoyable when they confirm that your team is good.
The Patriots offensive line had been grading out at PFF as capital-E elite for the first two months of the season, checking in as the third-best squad in the league right before Halloween. Only the Cleveland Browns and the seemingly-inevitable Philadelphia Eagles were doing it better. Even the Cole Strange pick was looking relatively palatable if the end result was that good.
Sure, Mac Jones was getting his clock cleaned pretty regularly over that first half of the season — he took five sacks in his first three games of the season and proceeded to return and get his s--t rocked 16 times between both Jets games and the Colts game — but most of that could be chalked up to a case of suspect play-calling and the skill players. It doesn’t really tend to matter how awesome your line is if the offensive coordinator is calling in plays that take so long to develop downfield that Mac would have time to check his phone before anyone got open.
So, yeah. It’s been tough sledding for the big boys over the last few weeks. Between injuries and illnesses and signing dudes off our division rivals’ practice squad that we also drafted a few years ago, the offensive line’s been having trouble playing cohesive football and keeping the QB clean. Even when the game plan called for Mac to pew-pew-pew his way to 5.42 yards per attempt against the Buffalo Bills, it still never felt like the line was anything close to what it was a month or two ago.
Fortunately, there’s reason for hope. Even though Mac Jones got taken down for one (1) sack against the Arizona Cardinals, and that’s while he was unloading the ball to the tune of 2.19 seconds to throw in the first half, the ground game was crushing. The Pats were forced to roll out a pair of untested rookie RBs after Rhamondre Stevenson went down early, and the run game still delivered in spades with two rushing touchdowns, 103 rushing yards, and a stout 4.9 yards per carry. When that’s how it went down and the end result is a double-digit win, that’ll work.
Meanwhile, once PFF crunched the numbers and delivered their Week 15 offensive line rankings, the end result for the Patriots was, essentially, “I want you to put the word out there that we back up”
Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu, and Conor McDermott got enough done to vault the Patriots back into the league’s best, landing at fifth-best line in football.
Here’s a bit of short, yet oh-so-sweet confirmation that this unit is legit, and not only is Cole Strange holding his own again, Michael Onwenu may well be badass enough to regularly get in the convo of “if you know ball, you know he’s probably a Pro Bowler”:
Strange didn’t allow any pressure on Monday night against the Cardinals, the fourth time all season he has kept a clean sheet in pass protection.
Onwenu has one below-average pass-blocking grade all season and has surrendered eight pressures across almost 500 snaps of pass protection.
Strange has certainly had his first season marked by streaky performance, both of the good and not-so-good varieties, but when he gets cooking and can trust what’s going on on either side of him, upside like that is exactly what you’re praying for.
Meanwhile, Michael Onwenu just stays consistently awesome. His PFF grade of 80.0 is almost a full 10 points better than frequently-referenced Pats alum Shaq Mason, who’s currently graded as 70.3 on the season in Tompa Bay.
The onion ring in the curly fries, though, is that there’s a legitimate chance that the line can get even better. We all knew Trent Brown was battling the flu, but I don’t think any of us knew he had it THIS bad.
Trent Brown said he was dealing with a bad case of the flu for about three weeks. Said he lost 12 pounds. Had to play through it vs. Buffalo because if he didn’t, James Ferentz was going to have to play left guard.— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) December 14, 2022
Said he “hopes” to be 100% on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/LVd3tSwafo
Because he’s Trent, he also had to gift us an all-time Trent Brown pearl of wisdom, when the subject of what he told this year’s first-round rookie to take to heart:
Trent Brown on his advice to Cole Strange as a rookie: “Everybody’s going to fuss, good or bad. The fans are going to talk shit, good or bad. Fuck ‘em.” pic.twitter.com/4eHHmLCjEU— Andrew Callahan (@_AndrewCallahan) December 14, 2022
And that’s the attitude we should all carry with us into the workplace.
The Patriots have a chance to keep pushing for the playoffs
on Sunday Night Football at 4:05 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon against Josh McDaniels and the Las Vegas Raiders.