The New England Patriots lost their first two games at home. Now they head south to take on the Jets, a team they've owned for decades, in an eminently winnable game. But things are dysfunctional on the New England Patriots offense, and there's a solid reason why.
Any offense at any level of football will depend on one unit more than any other to set the tempo and parameters of any game. It isn't glamourous, just reality. That unit is the offensive line. Ignore or gloss over it at your peril.
While the team tried to address the line's interior with three draft picks in 2023, the results there have been fair. The story at offensive tackle is worse. The offense's performance will always be significantly attributable to the play of the offensive tackles (OT). In the 2023 off-season, the team fumbled its attempts to fortify those positions.
New England Patriots needs at offensive tackle were all too evident in the 2023 offseason
The New England Patriots' needs at offensive tackle were clear after the disappointing 2022 non-playoff season. Their best tackle, Trent Brown, is prone to injury and is entering the final year of his contract. Whatever his performance was to be in 2023, his status for 2024 was always a question mark.
However, it's not fair to say that the team didn't attempt a fix. They did. Unfortunately, they botched it. In addition to Brown's tenuous status, it was clear that former first-round pick Isaiah Wynn was no longer going to be in the team's plans. Wynn had slid down the pecking order from offensive left tackle to right tackle, to guard, to out-the-door.
One move in the Patriots' patchwork attempts to paper over the O-line's deficiencies was to sign 34-year-old journeyman, Riley Reiff. Reiff had to be looked at as a stopgap, yet he seemingly was slated to start at right tackle. He hasn't played a snap and is now on IR for four games at least. That presumptive starter acquisition turned out to be an abject failure.
Thus, both presumptive starting offensive tackle spots are in flux. Since both starting tackles may be gone next season, the team needed significant, coordinated, and astute investments in the position both for the 2023 season and beyond.
New England Patriots failed to adequately restock their offensive tackle position in the 2023 offseason
Observers wondering why the New England Patriots are struggling now should look no further than their half-hearted attempts to augment their offensive tackle position depth. They first re-signed tackle Calvin Anderson, whom they previously had scrapped in 2019. He's not close to a top NFL tackle.
The team also re-signed Conor McDermott, evidently for depth. McDermott is a journeyman backup and just fills a roster spot. He'll never be expected to be a standout starter on an ongoing basis. If he starts, it won't bode well for the offense's success.
Yet, perhaps after the Pats failed to sign a top starting NFL tackle like Orlando Brown Jr. or Mike McGlinchey in free agency, the team's most egregious act was one of omission. The team needed a strong infusion of young talent from the draft, yet they neglected to use any of their 12 draft picks on an offensive tackle.
The right move was to draft at least two in higher rounds. Adding none has to be looked upon as borderline personnel malfeasance. The results have been predictable and the turnstile of waiver-wire types into Foxborough including by trade is ongoing.
New England Patriots O-line failures showing on the field
The Patriots running game has been shaky thus far, amassing only 164 yards while opponents have gained 242. Passing yardage has been decent at 547 yards in two games, but this has to be tempered by the fact that quarterback Mac Jones has been sacked six times already.
Jones has shown decent mobility to evade the rush, but he'll never be confused with a dual-threat quarterback, nor will his running have to be game-planned for. The obvious mechanism to remedy that situation would be to move rookie undrafted free agent Malik Cunningham into the team in any of several possible roles. Don't expect it. That would be innovative, and the team essentially lacks that trait.
Great or good teams are built in the offseason. Get the job done there, and barring catastrophic injuries, solid results will usually follow. The New England Patriots failed to bolster the second most important position on the team, offensive tackle. They are reaping the downsides of that lapse of judgment now.