Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Secret Weapon

New England Patriots OL Michael Onwenu
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The Patriots needed a 52-yard field goal as time expired to complete a comeback victory against the winless Jets. It certainly wasn't the performance New England fans were looking for, and it comes after their season has started to go off the rails a bit. There isn't a lot of confidence in what the Patriots are doing these days, and for plenty of people Monday's night win was another example of a bad performance by a mediocre team.

Because of that it, was weird for me to go back and watch the game and come away feeling mostly positive about the Patriots. I'm really only focusing on the offensive line, so my perspective is narrow, but this is a good unit. I thought four of the guys up front played very well and the fifth wasn't awful or anything, he just struggled at times when he was left alone. That fifth guy who struggled a bit was center David Andrews.

Since the Jets are in a pseudo-bear front with both defensive ends (Jabari Zuniga, 92, and Henry Anderson, 96) pinched inside, New England's guards work outside with the snap. That leaves Andrews one-on-one with the nose (Folorunso Fatukasi, 94) and it goes as bad it can possibly go. The thing that jumps out to me is Andrews' feet. Look at how he's not stepping as much as he just kind of hops his feet wider and braces for impact. That's not how you run-block. The pad level isn't good either, but it really begins and ends with his feet. He doesn't have a chance here.

It wasn't the only time Andrews struggled to block Fatukasi. There were a couple of times in the first half where the big nose tackle was too much. That's why I loved how the Patriots opened the second half.

This is the first play of the third quarter, and it's obvious New England wanted to give the nose a different look. So they sprung a wham play on him. A wham is essentially a trap play, but instead of a pulling guard, it's a fullback who tries to blindside the defensive tackle. Fatukasi sees it late so he doesn't get fully blind-sided, but he does get blocked thoroughly by Jakob Johnson (47). Throwing different blockers like this is a great way to handle down lineman who have been giving you troubles. Give them more to think about so they can't get in a groove.

I also want to point out Shaq Mason (69) at right guard here. He has a hard job as he has to knock a 4i defender (inside shade of the offensive tackle) to the outside of his tackle, displacing the defensive end from his gap, and then climb to the second level. And he has to do both things quickly because wham is a quick-hitting play. Mason does both beautifully and helps spring the 11-yard run.

Really, we could talk about the Patriots guards all the time for every column because both are such good players. Left guard Joe Thuney takes center stage when he pulls and kicks out the edge defender (Jabari Zuniga, 92) right at the point of attack. I love everything about Thuney here. He strikes with his upfield shoulder. He dips his hips right before contact to get lower than the defender. Then he engages his hips and rolls them through the block to create movement. Look how his back arches at contact -- that's him throwing his hips into the block and getting his most powerful muscles involved. Truly textbook stuff.

The Patriots are so good at gap-blocking schemes. Their two lead running backs went over 125 yards on 26 carries and averaged almost 5.0 yards a carry between them. That's a really strong running game performance, and there weren't really any huge runs to skew the stats. It was just consistent chunks at a time.

And really, the pass-blocking was just as good if not better than the run-blocking. I know it's easy to write it off as a game against just the Jets, but this line has been good all year.

The Pats offensive linemen are selling run pretty hard here and still giving their wide receiver time to run 30 yards and all the way across the field. That isn't the easiest thing in the world. It isn't perfect -- Korey Cunningham (74), a sixth lineman who is playing at tight end, has a pass set that is particularly awkward -- but the unit holds up in the end. Thuney at left guard (62) is getting bull-rushed a bit, but look how slowly he's giving up that ground. He's doing exactly what you're taught to do too, which is to take small little hops back to try to continue sinking your hips and anchoring down. He's getting pushed back, but it's at a slow pace, and he's keeping himself between the rusher and the quarterback.

Rookie right tackle Michael Onwenu (71) is solid here too. He has been such a find for New England. He should be the frontrunner for Rookie of the Year. It'll never happen because he doesn't touch the ball, but I find it hard to believe there's a better offensive rookie out there. He locks his man at the line of scrimmage and mirrors him through a couple of changes of direction. He gives up a little pressure, but it's very late in the play.

As frustrating as it might have been for New England fans to watch Monday night, I actually really enjoyed watching this game back. I can't speak for the defense, but this was a fun performance up front for their offensive line and I always have a good time watching them work.

Comments

8 comments, Last at 15 Nov 2020, 2:14pm

1 I wonder if Andrews is still…

I wonder if Andrews is still suffering the lingering effects of his recent injuries, or maybe he's just too small to deal with a big nose tackle?  I know Ben pointed out technique issues, but a guy of his size doesn't make it to the NFL if he has consistent technique concerns.

2 I don't think that's…

I don't think that's anything new.  Andrews (as well as most centers) struggles with one-on-one blocks against DTs in the run game. 

On the first play Ben highlights, it appears that the line was trying to sell a passing play by their action off the snap.  Andrews was trying to guide Fatukasi to his (Andrews's) left, but Fatukasi was neither fooled nor amused and drove him straight back to the mesh point of the draw.

Ben, I hope you don't get tired of people telling you how great this series is.  Really a phenomenal job.

3 Maybe a communication issue,…

Maybe a communication issue, too, then.  With that backfield alignment, if Andrews was trying to shade Fatukasi, it should have been to his right, not his left, I would think.

4 Ben, I hope you don't get…

Ben, I hope you don't get tired of people telling you how great this series is.  Really a phenomenal job.

Yes. It's the best single feature on the best sports site on the internet. I also hope you don't get tired of hearing old farts saying that Dr. Z would have loved your work. (That was a sad edit to make.)

5 To say...

...that the Patriots have reached a new low is not enough.

I can't even remember at time when the Patriots beating the Jets was seen as a "great win".  

Even worse, the Patriots are going to finish 3rd in the AFC East.  Predicted before the season that they'd struggle to stay at .500, but even I didn't think they'd look this bad.

Makes what Brady did last year all the more impressive.  Dragging a team devoid of talent to the playoffs is not something anyone can do.  

Brady is truly winning the divorce!   We'll have to see if Belichick can win with a QB not named Brady.

6 This isn't a shot at Brady,…

In reply to by DIVISION

This isn't a shot at Brady, but it never ceases to amaze me how everyone blindly gives the credit to the quarterback whenever a team wins. I seem to remember New England's defense having something to do with their wins last year along with a comically easy schedule in the first half of the season.

It's as if I looked at the Broncos after their super bowl win and claimed that Manning was the key ingredient to their run. After all who can argue with the naked fact that they won the super bowl with Manning as a quarterback and did not make the playoffs without him.

7 The Patriots aren't a great…

In reply to by DIVISION

The Patriots aren't a great team, but losing Newton for two games and only being able to have something like 4 practices in the month of October didn't help.  If that doesn't happen they'd likely be an ugly 5-3 with a chance at 6-2.

 

8 not great, not bad

Two plays away from 5-3: the 4th down play at Seattle and Cam's fumble in Buffalo.

But as Parcells said, you are what you are.  And the Pats are a 3-5 team.

The O-line is very good.  The RBs and the secondary are good.  The d-line has a couple good players, esp. Guy.  The LB play is weak, as is the WR play.  The TE play is non-existent.

If Brady were under center, they wouldn't be better.  They have depth issues at many positions.  They couldn't pay the salaries necessary to keep all their talent on defense. This happens with any team that wins a lot.  

People who say "Ha! It was Brady all along!" really don't understand football.  Brady was certainly important, and arguably the difference between winning big games and losing them.  But it's a team game.