Under pressure: It could all be on the line for the Patriots this season

Andy Hart
October 06, 2019 - 6:33 pm
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Dante Scarnecchia is the most accomplished, respected coach on the Patriots staff not named Bill Belichick.

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He’s a legendary offensive line leader who’s earned uniquely universal faith from media, fans, opponents, fellow coaches and players alike.

Scar has overseen offensive lines with differing degrees of talent and varying injuries over his decades in New England and seemingly always found a way to get the most out of the group in the trenches.

As the old saying alludes to, he’s made chicken salad from a multitude of ingredients over the years.

But through more than a month of undefeated football in Foxborough to open up the 2019 campaign, it appears that Scarnecchia’s line is not only the weak point of the team, but at this point seemingly the only flaw that could keep the Patriots from competing for another Lombardi Trophy this coming January and February.

Tom Brady was sacked four times in Sunday’s 33-7 win in Washington, hit nine times and under pressure more often than that. Heat from linebacker Ryan Kerrigan hurried Brady into an ugly interception at the goal line for the second straight week.

Though Brady was not sacked in last week’s win in Buffalo and hit just three times, he was harried most of the afternoon by the Bills impressive front as New England eked out the 16-10 road win.

For most of the season Sony Michel and the run game have found little room to work, blocking struggles that Belichick has uncharacteristically openly criticized in recent weeks.

Even in victory, New England’s offense has been lackluster over the last three weeks. Brady, for one, has certainly taken note.

In Buffalo, the GOAT stepped to the postgame press conference podium asking who was going to start the questions regarding “that riveting performance?”

In Washington, Brady less sarcastically and more factually noted of his offense, “It could be a lot better, I think that’s how we feel.”

All the issues on offense – both in the passing game that’s certainly also dealing with some limited depth of talent at both tight end and receiver and with the running game – can be directly traced back to the offensive line.

Could the receivers do a better job getting open, winning one-on-one battles? Sure.

Could Michel break a few more tackles and make something on his own? Yup.

Certainly, though, the group up front simply hasn’t been good enough. Sure, it’s a bit undermanned, losing the leadership and stability of center David Andrews, out for the season due to reported blood clots in his lungs. First-year left tackle, former first-round pick Isaiah Wynn, is also on injured reserve.

In their stead, veteran backup Ted Karras has taken over at center and journeyman addition Marshall Newhouse has slid into the key spot protecting Brady’s blindside.

They are, no doubt, trying their best. But as Eric Cartman would so accurately sing in his unique voice on South Park, “sometimes your best isn’t good enough.”

It certainly hasn’t been so far for Brady’s protection, Michel’s production or the Patriots overall offensive efficiency.

And it’s not just the new starters who are struggling. Right tackle Marcus Cannon was bull-rushed right into Brady for a sack in Washington. Right guard Shaq Mason, who’s supposed to be the best, most talented player in the group, has not played well.

In many ways the line’s struggles have been a cohesive group failure.

No, it hasn’t cost the team yet in terms of a loss. Yes, it will if it doesn’t improve.

It really is that simple.

There are three possible roads to that much needed improvement under Scarnecchia’s bulletproof tutelage.

The first option is simple growth through continuity. Maybe these five guys will be significantly better with more reps, on the practice field and in games, for Scarnecchia to coach up.

That would seem to be the least palatable and least likely plan.

Second, would be to try to hold down the fort with fingers crossed until Wynn might be able to return from IR.

Third, an option that might just be inspired by Sunday’s trip to Washington, would be to try to swing a trade for an upgrade, such as maybe disgruntled Redskins Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. New England reportedly offered a first-round pick for Williams earlier in the year – but would certainly need to jump through some hoops to create cap room for such a deal now – so it’s not hard to envision renewed interest in the stud lineman.

Whatever the answer, New England’s offensive line simply has to be better moving forward. A group – though one that lost key cog left tackle Trent Brown to free agency – that was the strength of the team on the Super Bowl run last winter is now a potential fatal flaw.

There is plenty of time to figure things out up front and there is no one more qualified to find a way to make it work than Scarnecchia.

But the clock is ticking. The opposition will get soon get stronger. The games will eventually become bigger.

At some point soon though, both literally and figuratively, the Patriots season will be on the line.

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