After longtime Patriots coach Dante Scarnecchia retired in January, New England faces issues on the offensive side of the football heading into 2020.
The New England Patriots have been lucky to have one of the best offensive line coaches in NFL history for the majority of their franchise’s success. But now, they have yet another hole to fill for the 2020 season.
Dante Scarnecchia, who coached 34 years in New England, retired at the end of January. Amidst a time when the Patriots should be adding pieces to the team to convince Tom Brady to stay, they seem to be losing them instead.
For example, offensive guard Joe Thuney is set to become a free agent at the start of the new league year on March 18th. Thuney has been New England’s most reliable offensive lineman since the beginning of the 2016 season — he has not missed a game since he entered the league, did not commit a penalty in the 2019 regular season, and allowed only one sack this past season.
Thuney undoubtedly will want to test his worth in the free agent market after four spectacular seasons — and the Patriots might not be willing to commit that much capital to the guard position, as they already have a lot invested in fellow guard Shaq Mason.
Mason had a down year by his own standards in 2019. He committed four penalties and allowed two sacks in the regular season. Still, it was a very good year by most league-wide metrics, and it was enough to help Mason cash in with a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 73.0.
Mason came into the season ranking in the top-10 for an interior lineman in the NFL according to PFF. Mason had a good overall year pass protecting, but many turned to him when assigning blame for the Patriots’ lackluster run game.
Mason signed a five year, $50M extension at the beginning of the 2018 season.
Guard isn’t the only position that could be affected dramatically by Scarnecchia’s retirement — center could be as well.
Center David Andrews was placed on IR at the beginning of the 2019 season and wound up never playing a game due to the discovery of blood clots in his lungs. In Andrews’ most recent season played, he gave up two sacks in the regular season and had a PFF grade of 72.0.
Andrews was credited with having a phenomenal 2018 postseason, not allowing a sack and committing no penalties through three games. His outstanding level of play helped running back Sony Michel break New England records with his six postseason rushing touchdowns.
Andrews is optimistic about his chances of returning for the 2020 season and should be “good to go,” according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss.
Of course, no position is perhaps more impacted by the retirement of such a great offensive line coach than quarterback. After all, it’s the quarterback who relies on his line for defense — and they, in turn, rely on their coach.
At least for the time being, that quarterback is Tom Brady.
Over Brady’s career, he has been known to have great pocket presence, stepping up when the edge rushers fly by him and delivering an accurate throw downfield. However, Brady’s known kryptonite is when the interior defenders get a strong push up the middle, leaving the immobile quarterback with nowhere to go.
Notably, Denver defenses of years past have been great at applying this defensive pressure to Brady. In Brady’s 2018 season, he had a passer rating of 118.7 vs. edge pressure, compared to a 63.1 passer rating vs. interior pressure.
Brady’s 2019 “Time to Throw,” which is a measure of time between snap and throw, was the slowest it has been in the Next Gen Stat Era. This is attributable to his receivers not being able to get open, and Brady having to hold onto the ball longer as a result.
The offensive line will need to hold up with Brady holding the ball longer and longer. If they don’t, the quarterback who will be 43 years old at the start of the 2020 NFL season will get beat up… and in a hurry.
Brady has said it many times himself: “Nothing good happens when I’ve got the ball in my hands.”
The Patriots need to secure their interior offensive line, consisting of both guards and the center positions, to protect their quarterback next season (whoever that may be).
As for the immediate future, the Patriots gave up 38 sacks in the 2015 season (the year before Coach Scar returned) and then only allowed 24 the following year. It is accurate to say that Coach Scarnecchia influences how well the offensive line performs.
If the Patriots can secure an interior line of Thuney, Andrews, and Mason, then I think New England fans could all breathe easier… even with the loss of Coach Scar.