How can Isaiah Wynn help the New England Patriots in his return from injured reserve? Just ask Bud Dupree.
The Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher squared off against New England’s young left tackle close to three dozen times back in Week 1 and barely laid a finger on Tom Brady.
Dupree pressured Brady just twice in Pittsburgh’s 33-3 loss at Gillette Stadium: one hurry that took 3 1/2 seconds to register and a sack that took more than five — far longer than offensive linemen are expected to hold their blocks. The rest of their battles were decisive victories for Wynn, who rarely received help from a tight end or running back.
It was a fantastic first impression for New England’s top 2018 draft pick and, to date, the only full game he’s played in a Patriots uniform. Wynn suffered a toe injury 12 plays into Week 2 and hasn’t seen the field since.
That should change this weekend.
After eight weeks on IR — where he also spent his entire rookie season — Wynn was activated to the Patriots’ 53-man roster Tuesday and is expected to start Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. And while his sample size is undoubtedly small, everything the Georgia product has shown thus far suggests he’ll be a significant upgrade over Marshall Newhouse, his temporary replacement.
Just look at the tape from Week 1. Wynn consistently won his 1-on-1 matchups against Dupree and, on occasion, defensive end Cameron Heyward, displaying the quick feet and deceptive stopping power for his size (6-foot-2, 310 pounds) that made him a first-round prospect last year.
Those traits were visible on all three of Brady’s touchdown passes in the game, which can be seen at the 1:30, 3:12 and 5:26 marks of the video below.
Brady began hyping up Wynn’s return weeks ago, and it’s easy to see why. Newhouse has been a liability in his stead, allowing more sacks (six, per Pro Football Focus) than the rest of the starting O-line combined (five) despite not playing in the season opener. The veteran journeyman also leads the team in total pressures allowed with 29 and has committed three penalties, tied for the most among Patriots linemen.
Among tackles who have played 100-plus snaps this season, Newhouse ranks 52nd in PFF’s pass-blocking grade (63.4) and 73rd in run-blocking grade (51.2). The nimbler, more athletic Wynn is known more for his pass-blocking prowess, but having him back in the mix should provide a boost in both areas.
Don’t expect him to immediately cure all that ails the Patriots’ sputtering offense, though.
New England’s miserable rushing attack (24th in yards per game; 30th in yards per carry) isn’t just a Newhouse problem, and the offensive line as a whole has regressed this season, save for left guard Joe Thuney. The team’s struggles on third down, in the red zone and against quality defenses can’t be pinned on any one player. There also are the obvious durability and inexperience questions, considering Wynn has played a total of five quarters in two seasons and has yet to test his skills against a top-flight edge rusher. (Steelers star T.J. Watt rushed exclusively from the offensive right side against the Pats.)
In all likelihood, Wynn’s return won’t be the magic pill that restores New England’s status as the NFL’s premier point-scoring powerhouse. But this Patriots team, with its suffocating defense and weaponized special teams, is built to win a Super Bowl without an elite offense.
It can settle for an improved one. And that, Wynn certainly can provide.