Cole Strange Holding His Own For Patriots Through Two Games

'Certainly a good test for Cole'

by

September 19

PITTSBURGH — As a first-round pick, and a polarizing one at that, Cole Strange will be under the microscope for this season and beyond.

Through two games in a Patriots uniform, Strange has given about as much as you could hope for — and probably more — from a rookie guard making the jump from an FCS school to the NFL.

The Chattanooga product followed up his solid debut against the Miami Dolphins in South Beach with another encouraging performance, this time in a 17-14 Patriots win over the Steelers at Acrisure Stadium. Facing a potent Pittsburgh front seven, Strange more than held his own and played a key role in New England’s run-heavy, game-sealing drive in the fourth quarter. The Patriots’ offensive line rebounded from a rough Week 1 with an excellent performance in Week 2, and Strange was a part of it.

“Cole’s a really good player,” center David Andrews said after the game. “He does a good job. As a rookie, I think you learn really fast. It’s just amazing how much you can pick up in weeks. He’s doing a great job. He comes in and works really hard, and does what you ask for.”

Now, it hasn’t been all great from Strange. He earned Pro Football Focus’ lowest run-blocking grade for Patriots offensive linemen in both games — make of those grades what you will — and earned the group’s lowest pass-blocking grade in Sunday’s contest. Strange did earn the top pass blocking grade in Week 1, however.

But it’s how Strange has done in key matchups that really stands out, as does the Patriots’ faith in running plays toward his direction in big spots.

Ahead of Sunday’s matchup, Strange talked about the challenge of facing Steelers star Cam Heyward, one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. “He puts his pants on just like everybody else,” Strange said with a blunt confidence that’s become a trademark of the 24-year-old.

The Steelers, without injured star edge rusher T.J. Watt, wound up playing Heyward at defensive end more than they typically do. Consequently, Strange didn’t see a ton of work against Heyward. But the reps he did see against a potential future Hall of Famer were impressive.

It all culminated with a sequence at the end of the game when the Patriots ran consecutive plays to the left slide. Strange handled Heyward on both reps, helping Damien Harris run for a game-sealing first down.

“There were some matchups in there,” Belichick said of Strange facing Heyward. “Certainly a good test for Cole to go against a player of that quality. I thought we were competitive. Heyward was disruptive, but certainly seen it worse, so we’ll probably take it. Less disruptive than he was against Cincinnati a week ago, that’s for sure, so that was a good thing.

“Generally speaking, our pass protection, again, was pretty good. Width of the pocket was good, depth of the pocket was good. We had a couple of plays where we got edge, had a holding penalty, had a couple hits on the quarterback. But overall, I’d say the pocket was pretty clean.”

Again, Strange still has much to work on and he must get stronger in his lower half. Patriots players and coaches aren’t just giving boilerplate answers when they say, “Like any rookie, he has a long way to go.”

But they also will say that Strange is doing his job, and doing it well — and they’re right.

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Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images
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