The Patriots’ suspect offensive line – particularly its two starting tackles – should have their hands full on Sunday with Myles Garrett coming to town.
There’s an elemental force of nature on its way east to Gillette Stadium this Sunday afternoon, and its name is Myles Garrett.
The No. 1 overall pick out of Texas A&M two years ago, Garrett is far and away the best player on this young Cleveland Browns defense. He’s tied for the league lead in sacks with 9.0 already this year – and that’s in just six games of action, too, as the Browns are coming off their bye this week. In other words, Garrett – a Pro Bowler last season – is averaging 1.5 sacks per game so far.
That could all spell trouble for the Patriots on Sunday when the Browns come to town. Just as the dominant New England defense (No. 1 in interceptions) must be looking forward to seeing Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield (No. 1 in interceptions thrown), Garrett is probably looking forward to facing off against an uncharacteristically-beatable offensive line.
The problems for the Patriots began well before the regular season arrived when longtime starting center David Andrews went on IR with a blood clot found in his lung. The unexpected loss of Andrews, coupled with the departure of last year’s starting left tackle Trent Brown in free agency, had New England scrambling to find capable offensive linemen they could plug in and play.
A number of potential replacements didn’t work out for a variety of reasons, including Jared Veldheer, J.J. Dielman, Cole Croston, Caleb Benenoch, Brian Schwenke, and Russell Bodine. New England ending up settling on a lineup of (from left to right) Isaiah Wynn, Joe Thuney, Ted Karras, Shaq Mason, and Marcus Cannon for their season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But in the first few weeks of the regular season, both Cannon and Wynn got injured in action. Cannon has since returned, but Wynn remains in recovery from turf toe and on injured reserve, with the hope that he could come back after the Patriots’ bye in Week 10. Mason is now also dealing with an injury of his own, and has been limited in practice with a bad ankle this week, per the team’s official report.
All of these injuries and overall uncertainty along the line has had a direct impact on the New England offense in 2019. Per Football Outsiders, the Pats’ O-line ranks just 21st in run-blocking and 11th in pass protection. Combining those rankings, the Patriots average out as only the 16th-best offensive line in the NFL… a distressing fact given the team’s Super Bowl aspirations this year.
Hence the justifiable level of concern with Garrett arriving in Foxborough this weekend. The third-year defensive end already has two forced fumbles and 20 tackles to go along with his nine sacks this year, meaning he’s well on his way to setting new career highs in all three categories. Moreover, he’s talented and versatile enough to line up on either side of the defensive formation – meaning he’s just as much a problem for fill-in left tackle Marshall Newhouse as he is for Cannon at right tackle.
While Cannon has drastically improved since his rocky early years with the Pats, he’s still far from what anyone would consider an iron wall on Tom Brady’s right side this season. And Newhouse, who has been tasked with protecting Brady’s left side (blindside) until Wynn returns, is without a doubt the weakest link on the line.
Thankfully, Brady has managed to counteract the subpar play of his offensive line for most of this season by getting the ball out quickly. He also has benefitted from playing in a scheme that prioritizes the pass-catching abilities of his running backs, who he can often dump off to when under duress without much fear of an incompletion or a fumble.
More than anything though, Brady has been the beneficiary of a rather easy slate of opposing pass-rushes through the first seven weeks of the season. He’s faced the Miami Dolphins, the Washington Redskins, and the New York Jets (twice), none of whom are considered league leaders when it comes to getting pressure on the quarterback. Of the Patriots’ opponents, only the Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills, and New York Giants (to a lesser extent) rank in the upper-half of NFL defenses when it comes to rushing the passer.
The Cleveland Browns are right there with the Steelers, Bills, and Giants as a better pass-rushing team, largely thanks to Garrett’s outstanding individual contributions this season. If the Patriots want to push their undefeated record to 8-0 this year, they’ll need to find a way to slow down Garrett if they can… and it all starts with Newhouse, Cannon, and the rest of the New England offensive line rising up to what could be their stiffest challenge of the season.