The New England Patriots offensive line ended the 2022 season as it lived; flashes of greatness mixed in with an alarmingly high number of performances that made you want to ask them, “.......how late did y’all stay out last night?”
Or, if movies are more your medium, you could pretty much set your watch to the Patriots first offensive possession when it was time to tweet this out:
(whether or not Mac Jones will succeed because unlike other Alabama quarterbacks, HE can speak with an English accent is TBD)
Either way, the combination of offensive line inconsistency and Matt Patricia’s penchant for calling plays that were either deep routes that took > 4 seconds to develop or throws behind the line of scrimmage proved to be a fatal recipe for many a Patriots offensive drive.
Mostly for that exact reason, it’s been worth keeping tabs on what the nerds at Pro Football Focus have had to say about the Patriots offensive line over the season, injuries, position changes, benchings, musical chairs at right tackle, and all. Early on, the reviews were stellar; by Week 3, PFF had the (left to right) Trent Brown/Cole Strange/David Andrews/Michael Onwenu/Isaiah Wynn unit as the third-best in the entire NFL, behind only the perpetually beefy Eagles and the Super Bowl chalk-pick Kansas City Chiefs.
Needless to say, it didn’t stay that way. By the end of the 2022 campaign, the Patriots’ lack of offensive growth and disproportionate reliance on “hey Rhamondre, go do something amazing” had resulted in an offense that ranked a pitiful 28th in the NFL in first downs per game and, as we’re all quite aware, 17th in offensive scoring. Relying on defensive scores to push you past the edge of Meh on offense is no way to live.
Former Patriots draft pick and also former Buffalo Bill and New York Jet Conor McDermott at least brought a little stability on the right side towards the end of the season, and forever-underrated Michael Onwenu continued his quiet excellence holding it down at right guard. Meanwhile, left tackle Trent Brown played the most inconsistent he’s ever played in a Patriots uniform, and like we’ll see below, Cole Strange had his moments of brilliance while also seeming to be directly dependent on having David Andrews in his ear every down.
For all our complaining, Pro Football Focus concluded that the Patriots ended the season as the 11th-best offensive line in the league, which if we’re being honest about it, is probably a lot more accurate than, say, going into Week 15 when New England was somehow ranked fifth.
Here’s what PFF had to say in their regular-season review:
11. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (DOWN 2)
Week 18 Starters:
LT Trent Brown
LG Cole Strange
C David Andrews
RG Michael Onwenu
RT Conor McDermott
Michael Onwenu surrendered two pressures in each of his last three games, accounting for 43% of the pressure he allowed all season.
Rookie Cole Strange blew hot and cold this season. He had eight games with a PFF pass-blocking grade of at least 80.0, but also four of 40.1 or worse.
Best Player: Michael Onwenu
Finally getting an opportunity as a full-time starter at one position, Michael Onwenu had a season that saw him named to PFF’s second-team All-Pro roster. He allowed 14 total pressures all season.
Couple items of note here: one, it’s not even homer hyperbole to say that Michael Onwenu should have been a Pro Bowler, it’s just a factual statement.
A fun fact about Michael Onwenu is his PFF grade this season is 81.4 and Quenton Nelson’s is 68.6, but Q had some cool pancakes 3 years ago, so https://t.co/6rkjCifstm— Goose (@GooseOnBass) December 22, 2022
Second, for all the LOLs and agony over the Cole Strange pick, when he was on, he was ON. Like we noted above, his performance frequently seemed like it was directly related to whether David Andrews was helping to get him straightened out on a down-by-down basis, but when he was able to play fast and let his athletic gifts shine, Cole gave us some outstanding flashes of what he could be if he can eliminate the bonehead mistakes, learn whatever offense we install next inside and out, and keep building on his progress next year.
I mean, at the risk of dropping a “Chris Hogan played lacrosse, people forget that”, Cole Strange spent his senior year at Chattanooga playing against teams like East Tennessee State, Furman, Wofford, and a team whose rally chant is — I kid you not — Let’s Go Peay.
(come on, it’s at least kind of funny).
Strange adjusting from that competition to the NFL, and still had stretches where he more than held it down on the left side. A little more consistency and a lot more practice, and there may not be any limits on what the kid can accomplish.
To wrap this up while we look ahead a little bit, both tackle spots are pretty inarguably needs 1A and 1B on the Patriots’ shopping list in free agency and the upcoming draft. Even if the oft-dreamed-of signing of Mike McGlinchey actually happens, New England still needs to reload in the offensive trenches, and maybe even start looking for the next David Andrews. We can’t always count on an undersized UDFA from Georgia developing into a 10-year starter that may well have a red jacket waiting for him at Gillette Stadium by the time he decides to hang ‘em up.
Some of those Georgia big boys that should be right at the top of everyone’s draft board, though..... PHEW.