The New England Patriots are riding high after starting their season with a 2-0 record, looking unbeatable while outscoring the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins by a combined score of 76-3. But they do have a potentially fatal flaw on offense.
The Patriots came into the season knowing they’d be without starting center David Andrews, who has a blood clot in his lungs, for 2019. Ted Karras has replaced Andrews through two games.
Then starting right tackle Marcus Cannon suffered a shoulder injury in Week 1 and couldn’t play Week 2 despite traveling to Miami. Marshall Newhouse, who was signed last week, replaced Cannon as a starter.
Then, 12 snaps into the Patriots’ win over the Dolphins, starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn suffered a foot injury. Newhouse moved from right tackle to left tackle and Korey Cunningham came into the game at right tackle. Wynn will be out at least eight weeks after being placed on injured reserve Tuesday.
So, now the Patriots have just two intended starters left on their offensive line in left guard Joe Thuney and right guard Shaq Mason. They’re probably the Patriots’ two strongest offensive linemen, so that’s a plus. Karras has filled in well for Andrews, so that’s another positive.
But until Wynn and Cannon both return, there are some major question marks at the tackle positions. So, let’s take a look at the Patriots’ options to replace both players.
Newhouse: The 10th-year NFL veteran has played left tackle, right tackle and guard since being selected in the fifth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. He’d probably be the best bet to fill in for Wynn early since he played left tackle Sunday.
Cunningham: The Patriots acquired Cunningham in a trade with the Cardinals in late August. He started six games at left tackle last season for Arizona after being selected in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He played right tackle this preseason, which is why Bill Belichick put him at that position rather than left tackle Sunday.
Caleb Benenoch: New England signed Benenoch on Tuesday after putting Wynn on IR. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and used him at left tackle, left guard, right guard and right tackle. He started 16 games at right guard last season but is 6-foot-5, 305 pounds with good athleticism for a tackle.
Jermaine Eluemunor: It seems the Patriots intend to use Eluemunor, acquired via trade from the Baltimore Ravens in late August, at guard, but he started a game at left tackle last season.
Thuney: The Patriots starting left guard practiced at left tackle early this summer in training camp when Wynn was recovering from a torn Achilles. It seems unlikely the Patriots would move Thuney to left tackle, but it’s possible.
Dan Skipper: Skipper is on the practice squad, but he filled in for Wynn at left tackle for most of the summer. If the Patriots liked what they saw, they likely wouldn’t have traded for Cunningham then signed Newhouse and Benenoch.
The Patriots know what they have best in Newhouse at left tackle, but he did struggle Sunday. He’d probably play better with more than a week of practice under his belt, however.
Cunningham is intriguing since he’s the most moldable of all of these options. He’s a second-year player, and we’d like to see what Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can do with a guy who runs a 4.9-second 40-yard dash with a 35.5-inch vertical leap and 9-foot, 11-inch broad jump at 6-foot-5, 311 pounds.
Cunningham did struggle last season at left tackle, but he has another year of experience, and he’s playing in a new system. The best long-term combination might be Cunningham at left tackle and Cannon at right tackle. It’s tough to predict the Patriots’ plans for Benenoch after he played right tackle this preseason.
Ultimately, losing Wynn would be a bigger deal for most other teams. But quarterback Tom Brady gets rid of the ball so quickly, the Patriots shouldn’t have too much trouble moving the ball on offense. Brady has the fourth-quickest release through two games of the 2019 season, according to Pro Football Focus. He had the fifth-quickest release in 2018.
The prospect of a 42-year-old quarterback getting hit more frequently certainly is concerning, however. The Patriots like to teach their offensive linemen the technique to redirect pass rushers behind Brady.
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