As strange as it might sound, the New England Patriots’ offensive line woes can be blamed on and stem from Julian Edelman’s knee injury and the acquisition of Brandin Cooks.
Quarterback Tom Brady, who’s currently nursing a left shoulder injury, has been sacked 16 times through five games after Patriots quarterbacks were brought down just 24 times in 16 regular season games last year. The Patriots’ offensive line has let up 11 sacks, 17 quarterback hits and 77 total pressures this season, according to Pro Football Focus. They allowed 15 sacks, 26 QB hits and 147 total hurries all of last season.
So, what gives? It’s the same five players. And since they’ve all been playing together for more than a year, shouldn’t they be a better unit than ever?
That’s where Cooks and Edelman factor in. Brady is taking longer to throw the ball this season because, a.) he has better, faster deep targets in Cooks, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett, and b.) he doesn’t have Edelman to get open quickly.
Brady is taking 2.56 seconds to attempt a pass this season, according to PFF. He’s taking 2.67 seconds to throw, which includes sacks and scrambles. He’s averaging 3.35 seconds to be sacked.
Last season, Brady took 2.39 seconds to attempt, 2.49 seconds to throw and he averaged 3.11 seconds to be sacked.
So, while it seems the Patriots’ offensive line is struggling this season because they’re giving up more sacks, hits and hurries, they’re also having to hold blocks longer. And those split seconds matter when players like Justin Houston, Gerald McCoy, Cameron Jordan, Whitney Mercilus, Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt are bearing down.
If anything, it’s possible the Patriots’ offensive line was overrated last season and Brady’s quick release was masking problems.
At the same time, it’s worth noting PFF thinks highly of the Patriots’ O-line.
While Brady used to have one of the quickest releases in the NFL, he now ranks middle of the road in time to throw, attempt and sack. The Patriots’ offensive line ranks 30th in sacks allowed and 29th in total pressures allowed, but it’s fair to say they’d rank much better if Brady was still getting rid of the ball at a fast clip.
Just a season ago, the Patriots’ O-line ranked fourth in sacks allowed and 10th in total pressures. Brady and his weapons have increased the difficulty level for Nate Solder, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Shaq Mason and Marcus Cannon. Brady might not have the option of releasing the ball faster, so his blockers have to play better. Otherwise, Brady might not last that much longer since he’s already injured and reinjured his non-throwing shoulder. Brady is good at not landing on his right shoulder, but it could be unavoidable at some point.
The Patriots’ traditional offensive line technique also might need to be tweaked. Offensive tackles Solder and Cannon both traditionally redirect edge defenders around and behind Brady. If Brady is holding the ball longer, then those pass rushers could begin to loop back to sack or hit Brady.
It could take multiple tweaks to improve the Patriots’ pass protection.
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images