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

Word of Muth: Wasted Effort

New England Patriots RT Justin Herron
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

The Patriots lost to the defending champion Chiefs in an unexpected Monday night game this week. With Cam Newton out due to Covid-19, New England turned to veteran backup Brian Hoyer and only put up 10 points. It was a disappointing offensive performance but not an entirely shocking one once it was announced Newton was out. It wasn't all negative on the offensive side for the Pats, though.

The Patriots offensive line, despite missing two starters of their own, looked good. They weren't as good as when I saw them earlier in the year, but they played well. They protected the quarterback and opened up some nice running lanes. I wanted to start with the running game since there were some real highlights that led to New England's running backs rushing 31 times for 167 yards.

This is weakside outside zone, and as so often is the case with this play, it's the backside that makes it go. In particular, rookie right guard Mike Onwenu does a great job of sealing off a stunting 3-technique (Tershawn Wharton, 98) here. Once he sees that linebacker (Damien Wilson, 54) walk up to the line of scrimmage, he knows that there's a good chance that defensive tackle is slanting and that's going to be his man. Notice how he fights to stay square and work back into the defensive tackle when he feels the movement. He cuts off the stunt and creates the hole. Meanwhile, Justin Herron at right tackle shows how you treat linebackers that want to play on the line. He just swallows the defender up, runs his feet, and buries him.

The front side is a little messier. Backup center James Ferentz comes off the middle linebacker (Anthony Hitchens, 53) when he sees him work away, but that guy ends up making the tackle. Also, as was a common theme throughout Monday, Ferentz ends up on the ground. I've never seen a good offensive lineman who ends up on the ground as frequently as Ferentz did against Kansas City. That usually means your athleticism isn't where it needs to be and you're scrambling around trying to keep up. Ferentz wasn't awful, but I'm sure the Pats are anxious to get David Andrews back.

This was actually the very next play. I don't know if the Patriots had a key on this movement or if they just got lucky, but having the center reach a play-side 3-technique seems like a tall task if that 3-tech isn't slanting. But Wharton slants here, making Ferentz's block much easier. Still, it's well executed by Ferentz. Look at him club with his play-side arm and swivel his hips into the hole to put himself between his man and the ball. He falls down late because he always falls down, but this is a good rep.

Fullback Jakob Johnson does a good job on an in-line insert here. He wades through the bodies and gets his hat on his linebacker (Hitchens). That's tougher than it looks, to pick your way through a bunch of linemen cross-blocking and still have enough pop in your hips to make a decent block.

And finally, it doesn't really factor into the play but I'll always highlight a pancake. Onwenu pulls here and drives his man (Derrick Nnadi, 91) into the turf. Yes, he's assisted by the defender getting his feet tripped up by the opposite guard, but that only happens because Onwenu is pushing him across the field like an out-of-gas Honda Civic.

In fact, let's go back to Onwenu pulling, because jacking dudes up is what he does. Look at him lift Wilson off the ground on initial contact. Then he keeps on the defender and finishes him into the ground. Onwenu is naturally very heavy-handed. You can see when he hits you, you feel it. A very good trait for an offensive lineman.

On top of Onwenu's block, I love left tackle Isaiah Wynn here. We've talked about it before with the Patriots: the technique on the gap-blocking combos is so good. Wynn attacks the down defender's (Wharton's) hip, just as he's coached, and displaces him a gap before climbing up to his linebacker (Hitchens). That's what a coach calls "clinic tape" because when you go out to all these coaching clinics in the offseason talking about what you run and how you coach it to high school and college coaches, this is a play you use to illustrate how you teach this combo block.

Wynn played well all night in both the run and pass game. Where he really impressed me, though, were his play-action pass sets.

Wynn (76) is on an island here at left tackle, and his set is so good I could cry. He comes out aggressively but under control. Look at his feet -- short, powerful steps where he never loses the base from his stance. By firing out he's selling the run to the linebackers and the guy he's blocking. Then his hands are perfect too: inside hands, right on the defender's breastplate with no helmet involved. He locks the defender (Tanoh Kpassagnon, 92) out and dominates him. Brian Hoyer could've held onto that ball for another 10 seconds and Wynn's man wouldn't have beat him. Since it wasn't the end of the half, Hoyer didn't hold the ball. That's picture-perfect pass blocking from Wynn.

Joe Thuney (62) at left guard does some good things here as well. What I really like is how he settles and drops his hips once he pulls. He puts himself in position to do a little mirror dodge drill from the combine. It's not easy to settle into a pass-blocking stance after pulling across the formation, but Thuney does a fine job of it here.

The pass-blocking was generally good for New England. Right tackle Justin Herron probably had the worst night in pass pro but he wasn't awful or anything. He was just OK and gave up some pressures a little sooner than you would want.

Herron (75) is getting beat here, but not like a drum. And it doesn't help that his quarterback (Jarrett Stidham) drops to just about 10 yards and then doesn't step up in the pocket. Still, Herron is OK, he just has to get a little more push when he turns to run his man by the quarterback at the top of the rush.

Wynn is really good here again. I can't tell whether he snatched the defensive end down or if the end trips, but either way I love how the left tackle closes down on the inside move with square shoulders and a wide base. That allows him to redirect outside and pick up the looper. He basically picks up the end-tackle stunt by himself.

Another reason I included these last two GIFs is to help illustrate how an offensive line that played well could only score 10 points. Both of these plays are protected well enough, and both have receivers you can see open even from the end zone view, but both resulted in turnovers. You can block a team all night, but you still need some help from the guy with his hands under the center's ass if you're going to score any points.


31 comments, Last at 12 Oct 2020, 5:18pm

2 "...right tackle shows how…

"...right tackle shows how you treat linebackers that want to play on the line."

One might almost think this article was written by an offensive lineman.

3 One of the underplayed…

One of the underplayed elements of Patriots magic is the near continuity of offensive line competency.  An attribute that most teams seem to lack and other teams perpetually fail at.

7 Agreed.  Solid OL play…

Agreed.  Solid OL play allowed Brady to be better, allowed squads when they had top talent to be generationally great, and probably most importantly for the "dynasty", allowed squads with little top talent to still score enough points to win. 

16 This. I actually believe…

This. I actually believe Belichick's reputation as a defensive mastermind is somewhat overstated these days. He's very good (don't get me wrong), but it simply isn't true that the Patriots have achieved consistent excellence on that side of the ball. Before last season it had been a long time since they had fielded an elite defensive unit, and there have been a couple of flat out bad defenses along the way.

A better picture of the overall mastery there comes from looking at the offensive line and special teams performance.

31 Resources

My sense is that BB decided that with the advantages that the NFL gives offenses, it wasn't as cost efficient to put major resources into the defenses. With prime and late-prime Brady, the defense just had to be a complimentary unit that was just good enough. Worked out OK , for the most part.

A big part of the o-line consistency was Scar, one of the best line coaches in the history of the league. After he retired the first time, the line went downhill in a big way, Scar's replacement got canned and Scar came back. Last year injuries totaled what should have been a very good o-line and cost the team big. This year though, the results are looking good and there seems to be excellent depth.

6 Johnny Football is too much of an improviser...

if we were looking for like for like backups, you would put him behind some like Watson or Allen; or Wilson 5-6 years ago.

Kaep is a big running QB, with a big arm.  At his best he was like 80-90% of Cam Newton with a similar style of play.

Off the street he would only have to be better then Hoyer or Stidham, and maintain the style of offense.

It's like being chased by a bear... I don't have to outrun the Bear, only my hiking buddy.


(Edit)  I think football people that focus on the Pros everywhere still greatly underrated the efficiency gain while running the ball with a true option threat at QB.

14 Greg Hardy and Ray Rice were…

Greg Hardy and Ray Rice were permanently excised from the NFL. Now granted, we're taking about two abusers, but the point remains - if you are considered a distraction by any means, you are sent to the salt mines provided you aren't a superstar player. 

19 Nevertheless, the point…

Nevertheless, the point remains, if you bring outside distractions you are going to have a tough road back to the NFL.

I don't think its purely an NFL thing. Look, coaches don't like answering questions to begin with, but they absolutely hate having to answer off the field questions. Tebowmania had a lot of elements off the field. Ditto for Kaepernick. Our woke culture means every media pundit is going to ask questions regarding social justice when Kaepernick is on the roster. Do you really want to deal with that as a coach? 


22 It's unlikely any questions…

In reply to by scraps

It's unlikely any questions posed relating to Richie would lead to a potential media Firestorm and or a fireable offense. Right now a coach who appears lukewarm on kneeling for the anthem is going to get labeled as a racist. 


So yes having Richie incognito is far less of a distraction/ booby trap than having Kaepernick would be

24 Let me state flatly this is…

In reply to by scraps

Let me state flatly this is all my personal opinion. Happy to hear arguments that go the other way. It does no good to stay in your own echo chamber.

28 If I don't want to continue…

If I don't want to continue the conversation, it doesn't mean I'm in an echo chamber.  It only means I don't want to continue this conversation.  The fact that you think that, makes me think that I'm right (to not continue, I mean).

25 Why sigh?  He’s absolutely…

In reply to by scraps

Why sigh?  He’s absolutely right. Do you honestly think Kaepernick and Incognito are equal as far as media circus goes?  If Kaepernick is a 100, Incognito is about a 4. 

The question isn’t, nor has it ever been, is Kaepernick better than a bunch of QBs drawing NFL paychecks. The question is whether or not Kap is worth having protests, and counter-protests, at the stadium every single day of the year. And while there’s a whole lot more Pro-Kap feeling in 2020, at minimum he has to be your unquestioned starter, and really has to be an above average starting QB, for signing him to be worth the headaches. 

and we haven't discussed salary or desire to play yet. Personally, and this is based entirely on my own observations, Kap would rather be a martyr than an NFL player. And I think that’s admirable. Let’s face it ... if Kap gets a chance to be a starting QB and sucks, it really dents the narrative. 

10 Manziel was the third worst…

Manziel was the third worst QB on two different CFL rosters.  I've no idea what people saw in him to consider him a Heisman Trophy winner, but he was completely incapable of running any pro offense.  Suggesting he could in any way be the equivalent of Kaepernick or any proven NFL starter / quality backup is crazy.  He couldn't be. 

11 I've always been a college fan first...

Manziel is the result of two things... (1) there are things that just work in college that don't work in the NFL; and (2) attention bias.

Manziel used his athleticism to improvise consistently at a time that a young Russel Wilson was tearing up the NFL.  Manziel, helped by WR Mike Evans, was a legitimately good college QB as he could athletically extend plays against less athletic college D-Lines.  In addition Texas A&M brought the Air Raid to the SEC for the first time since Hal Mumme left Kentucky.  SEC defenses were supposed to stop the Air Raid because "the SEC is different" and "they don't play defense in the Big XII".  So he put Air Raid QB stats on teams like Alabama and LSU.

People thought he'd be good in the NFL because people thought Russel Wilson was good because of his improvisational highlights.  But that's because they weren't watching Wilson who was just a good QB who happened to improvise.

26 Without getting into the…

Without getting into the particulars of each situation and (in)famous has-been, we could see a lot of off-the-wall type signings with team outbreaks.

I was pro-Michael Sam when the Browns' front 7 became depleted later in the 2014 season, even though he brought distractions, had been passed over on waivers multiple times, and just plain got out of shape/let the fame get to his head.

9 Agreed, Kaep would be a good…

Agreed, Kaep would be a good backup to Newton.  I'm not sure that Stidham isn't also a good backup to Newton, though.  He seems to have the athleticism, if not the size, to run the same offense as Newton.

I figured Belichick kept Hoyer around out of loyalty, as he's the odd man out physically in that virtual QB room.  Which is why I was so shocked at Hoyer's mental mistakes against KC.  I figured if Belichick liked him, despite his struggles elsewhere he must at least be a smart QB Belichick could trust.  Not so much last Monday.


29 I looked into this a couple…

I looked into this a couple weeks back - Newton ran a 4.5-4.6 40 and a sub-7 3 cone at his combine. Stidham was more like 4.8 and 7.3, respectively. It’s fair to say that Stidham has above average athleticism for a QB, maybe on par with Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, but he’s not on par with Newton. (Or at least Newton at the Combine 10 years ago.)

27 Hey, Hoyer got the same…

Hey, Hoyer got the same senior moments as his mentor Brady, which isn't surprising when you consider that he looks older than him. :) (His hair was already thin by his sophomore year at Michigan State and he decided to go the shave route early.)

30 New Identity?

Worth noting: the Pats O-Line was playing without Shaq Mason and David Andrews!

Seems to me that a personnel grouping of Wynn / Thuney / Andrews / Mason / Onwenu plus Herron as a 3rd "jumbo" tackle and N'Keal Harry (a ferocious run blocker) plus a couple of their TE / FB chess pieces (Izzo /  Asiasi) to go with Cam and Michel / Harris ....and you have the potential for a SCARY running game, the likes of which we haven't seen from the Patriots since the days of Hannah and Gray.  Good luck preventing that group from getting 10 yards with 4 downs..and this year they aren't committing penalties that would get them off schedule (only one offensive holding call through 4 weeks, I believe).