clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Patriots need to figure out their right tackle position, and fast

With a game against the Raiders coming up, New England needs to focus on improving at right tackle.

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Seven months ago, in mid-March, Pats Pulpit’s Brian Hines ranked the New England Patriots’ roster needs ahead of free agency. No. 1 on that list? Offensive tackle.

Back then, the team had only three tackles signed, while three others were set to enter the open market: Trent Brown, Conor McDermott and Andrew Stueber were all under contract beyond the start of the new league year; Isaiah Wynn, Yodny Cajuste (RFA), and Marcus Cannon were not.

Fast forward to mid-October, and only two of those six players can actually be found on the Patriots’ pay roll. Outside of starting left tackle Brown and practice squad member Stueber, the group looks unrecognizable.

New England brought veterans Calvin Anderson and Riley Reiff aboard in free agency, drafted versatile rookie Sidy Sow in the fourth round, and acquired Tyrone Wheatley Jr. and Vederian Lowe via trade. But while the team certainly has numbers at the position, the quality of that depth chart has proven suspect five games into the season.

In fact, outside of the quarterback position, the tackle spot opposite Trent Brown might be the biggest question mark on the roster. The following chart published by Pro Football Focus analyst Timo Riske illustrates this:

Highlights: Pats Pulpit
Timo Riske/PFF

Highlighted here are the three players who have lined up at offensive tackle for the Patriots this season. Trent Brown started four games at left tackle, Vederian Lowe one at left tackle and three at right tackle, and Calvin Anderson the other two at right tackle.

What can be seen is that all three of them have gone up against some quality competition so far this year. Out of qualifying players, Lowe had the third-hardest slate of pass blocking assignments, Brown the fourth and Anderson — who was benched for Lowe after Week 2 — the sixth.

The circumstances help explain why both Lowe and Anderson have struggled so far (and they also show that Brown has been solid considering that he has played only a little over two quarters alongside starting left guard Cole Strange). Problem is that the opposition is not getting any easier, especially this week.

As we have mentioned before, Las Vegas Raiders edge Maxx Crosby is one of the most disruptive players in football: his 34 quarterback pressures rank second in the league, while his five sacks rank ninth. For comparison, Dallas’ Micah Parsons, who had Vederian Lowe in all sorts of trouble in Week 4, has registered 29 pressures and four sacks through the first five games of the year — including 10 disruptions (but no sacks) versus New England.

Needless to say, if the Patriots want to get their struggling offense back on track they need to figure something out at right tackle. And they need to do it fast.

Crosby, after all, has lined up primarily over the opposing right tackle this season. Of his 314 total defensive snaps, 245 (78.0%) have come from an alignment to the offense’s right.

So, what can the 3-point underdogs (via DraftKings Sportsbook) do? It all starts with personnel and the question of who will start at right tackle to begin with.

The team used Calvin Anderson for the first two games but has since demoted him to backup player; while there was optimism about him in the building during the spring, a mystery illness has stunted his development. Vederian Lowe has taken over since, but as can be seen above he has not gotten the job done either, albeit under difficult circumstances.

With neither Sidy Sow nor Tyrone Wheatley Jr. as realistic options to take over, let alone Andrew Stueber from the practice squad, the Patriots appear to have only two ways they can go if they want to move away from Lowe: Riley Reiff or Michael Onwenu.

Onwenu has quite a bit of experience at tackle, and performed well at the position earlier in his career. However, it appears the team still wants to keep him at right guard — considering the alternatives (including Sow and Reiff) that might be the best course of action regardless.

This leaves Riley Reiff. The 34-year-old played both left and right guard on Sunday against New Orleans, but with New England preaching a restart this week he might be moved to the position he played for the vast majority of his NFL career. Obviously, though, injury concerns at both guard spots are still very much a factor to be considered as well and might force further adaptation.

Still, given how both Lowe and Anderson have performed, one would expect that giving Reiff a look at RT would be on the team’s minds.

Regardless of who gets the start, the Patriots need to make sure not to leave them exposed against Crosby. The fifth-year edge, after all, has feasted in one-on-one situations so far.

New England might take a page out of last year’s playbook, when it kept him to three pressures by successfully using a mix of blocking tactics — from duo blocks and chips, to trap blocks on running plays.

Of course, simply throwing bodies at Crosby is not as easy as it sounds like. Whoever is lining up at right tackle is still going to be asked to perform at a consistently high level against the two-time Pro Bowler.

In addition, the Raiders might try to test New England’s cohesion and communication up front by running him on stunts or other line games.

No matter the plan the Patriots’ offensive coaching staff will come up with this week, keeping Crosby in check has to be a main objective. If not, the game against the Cowboys’ Micah Parsons might have been a preview for what’s to come.