Dante Scarnecchia

Dante Scarnecchia, Patriots bullish on Isaiah Wynn: He's 'completely healthy'

Dante Scarnecchia, Patriots bullish on Isaiah Wynn: He's 'completely healthy'

FOXBORO -- The New England Patriots aren't in the business of setting lofty expectations.

But the team seems noticeably excited to have offensive tackle and 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn back in the mix.

"I really like Isaiah," Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia told reporters Friday at Gillette Stadium. "We all like the person and we like the player. We've just got to keep him out there."

Wynn was activated off injured reserve Tuesday after missing nine weeks with a toe injury. He's played just one full NFL game after missing his entire rookie season due to a torn Achilles.

Scarnecchia expects Wynn to suit up Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, though, and believes the 23-year-old can make an immediate impact.

"What we're seeing is a guy that's really completely healthy and stronger than he's been," Scarnecchia said after Wynn completed his third practice of the week. "We thought he was a good player when he went into the season, and we think even that much more of him now."

At 6-foot-2, 310 pounds, Wynn is slightly smaller than other left tackles Scarnecchia has worked with such as Trent Brown and Nate Solder. The veteran offensive line coach sees a little of a Patriots Hall of Famer in Wynn, though.

"He's a good technician," Scarnecchia said of Wynn. "Matt Light wasn't the tallest, longest guy in the league also. Good football players play, man. They figure out ways. This guy knows how to play. That's why we drafted him."

The Patriots particularly could use Wynn's help in the run game: New England hasn't topped 80 rushing yards in a game since Week 6 and is averaging 3.3 yards per attempt, tied with the New York Jets for 30th in the NFL.

Patriots running backs coach Ivan Fears is hopeful Wynn can give Sony Michel, James White and his other ballcarriers a bit more room to run.

"Isaiah's an awful good football player," Fears said Friday. "He's a really talented athlete that's got a great love for the game and has a little nastiness, which you need.

"Having him back there is going to make a world of a difference when it comes to making some of the blocks that we'd like to see that guy make. 

" ... And that's probably going to open a hole here or there."

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Isaiah Wynn could be most impactful roster addition outside of Brees, Mahomes

Isaiah Wynn could be most impactful roster addition outside of Brees, Mahomes

FOXBORO -- If you were to take a look at the NFL's easily-identifiable Super Bowl contenders, who looks like they've made the most significant mid-season addition?

Let's leave out all the teams who are not yet mathematically eliminated, championship long shots, who got players back from injury lately. Chargers left tackle Russell Okung doesn't count. Neither does quarterback Nick Foles in Jacksonville.

It's a relatively short list.

The Saints getting Drew Brees healthy is probably the most sizable add given the amount of time he missed and what he means to that offense. Then it's Patrick Mahomes, whose absence was shorter, but whose impact will obviously be massive for the Chiefs when he returns.

After that? Take a look at the left tackle spot in New England.

Isaiah Wynn has the potential to be the most significant mid-season addition to a Super Bowl contender not named Brees or Mahomes. He's that important. There's a reason why Tom Brady openly pined for his second-year teammate back in mid-October. 

"We have one [player] that we’re hoping can return from injury, Isaiah Wynn, who was our left tackle to start the year," Brady told Jim Gray on Westwood One Radio. "He’s working hard and progressing, and any time you get players back, it not only improves the depth of the team, but you get some youthful exuberance, as well.

"So any time you get players back from injury, I think it’s a benefit to the team . . . We’re certainly hoping Isaiah can come back at some point.”

Wynn is back at practice and is one of New England's two players who has been designated to return from injured reserve, along with N'Keal Harry. Wynn can't come back until the Week 12 tilt with the Cowboys, but when he does he has the ability to take an inconsistent Patriots attack to another level.

Look at what Josh McDaniels needs for the second half of their schedule. He needs help with a sputtering running game. He needs to keep Brady clean -- maybe more so than ever before. Wynn kills those two birds with one singular, 6-foot-2, 310-pound stone.

That's why Wynn could be a more critical acquisition than big names who have been traded like Mohamed Sanu to New England or Emmanuel Sanders to San Francisco or Jalen Ramsey in Los Angeles. The Niners getting tackle Joe Staley back from injury will be key for them, but their line has been fine without him. They average 4.5 yards per carry, and Jimmy Garoppolo has been pressured less than any quarterback in the NFL outside of Derek Carr.

RUNNING GAME

The Patriots are 30th in the NFL in yards per carry (3.3), even after one of their best run-game performances of the season in Baltimore. Is some of that on the players carrying the football? Sure. But the offensive line carries a significant portion of the blame, as Dante Scarnecchia was willing to admit recently.

Working behind Wynn's replacement, Marshall Newhouse, hasn't helped Patriots backs. Coming into a full-time role when Wynn left a Week 2 win in Miami due to turf toe, Newhouse has graded out as the 49th-ranked run-blocking tackle in the league among players at that position with at least 50 percent playing time.

Where Wynn would be a noticeable upgrade over Newhouse is sheer athleticism. It's obvious on things like screen plays -- Wynn was sprinting out ahead of James White on one long catch-and-run against Pittsburgh -- but it shows up in the running game as well. His quickness off the ball should allow the Patriots to use their left tackle in ways they haven't with Newhouse.

Power at the line of scrimmage -- like what Trent Brown brought to the table through the course of the 2018 season -- isn't going to be Wynn's game, necessarily. But Wynn is explosive enough off the line to create movement against bigger players, as he did at times in short-yardage against Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward in his lone full game of action this season.

Is Wynn a panacea for what ails the Patriots running game? No. They won't all of a sudden become a top-three rushing offense upon his return. But for a team that is 20th in the NFL in rushing success rate on third or fourth down when they need three yards or fewer, his snap off the line should be a difference-maker.

PASSING GAME

Brady's protection in the passing game this season has likely been better than you thought. He's seen pressure on just 29.7 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. That's the fifth-lowest rate in the league.

But with Wynn in the mix, that number should get even better since Newhouse has been the team's primary offender when it comes to pass-protection letdowns. Newhouse has allowed 25 pressures at left tackle in eight games, which is ninth-most among all tackles, and his pass-blocking grade is 41st among tackles, per PFF.

Why is keeping Brady protected so important when he's been pressured relatively infrequently? Because the difference between Brady under pressure and Brady in a clean pocket this season is staggering.

According to Pro Football Focus, Brady has a 47.9 quarterback rating under pressure this season. That's his worst rating under pressure going back to when PFF starting recording that statistic in 2006. It's the fourth-worst number in the league this season.

Brady is also accurate on just 55.7 percent of his throws under pressure, per PFF, which is his worst percentage of the last decade. However, his 81.9 percent accuracy mark when kept clean is his second-best mark of the last 10 years.

By keeping Brady protected more often, which Wynn will do more efficiently than Newhouse, the Patriots will get the best version of Brady more frequently and see the worst of Brady less. 

What stood out in watching Wynn's performance back in Week 1 is that it looks like he's already taken to one of the pillars of Scarnecchia's philosophy on pass-protection: It's an aggressive act, not a passive one.

Against the Steelers, Wynn could be seen taking the fight to speed-rusher Bud Dupree. For the majority of the game, Wynn was matched up with the young Steelers outside linebacker, and in his first game after missing all of last season due to a torn Achilles, Wynn's foot speed was up to the challenge.

Combine that athleticism with a brutish demeanor, and Scarnecchia has a promising left tackle on his hands.

Even in the play-action passing game -- where part of a lineman's job is to help sell the run-fake -- Wynn was noticeably hungry for contact in Week 1. Getting the running game going would certainly help the Patriots play-action game be more effective moving forward, but getting Wynn back should help as well.

The Patriots are a middle-of-the-pack play-action team at the moment. Brady's completion percentage off of play-action is just 0.6 points better than without play-action, placing him 22nd among quarterbacks, according to PFF. His yards-per-attempt differential is an improvement of 2.1 yards with play-action, on average. That's 14th among quarterbacks.

Dupree is in the middle of his best season with 6.0 sacks and on pace for 18 quarterback hits, but Wynn will face stouter pass-rushers moving forward. Houston's Whitney Mercilus, Kansas City's Frank Clark and Buffalo's Jerry Hughes all work primarily against left tackles, and they'll test the second-year player as he works his way back into game condition.

But if Wynn is healthy, he should be able to hold up. He'll certainly be an upgrade over his replacement in both the running and passing games, helping the Patriots find a new gear offensively as they chase Lombardi Trophy No. 7.

Outside of guys named Brees and Mahomes, there is no mid-season addition who has the potential to change the course of the NFL season the way Wynn does.

 

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Point/Counterpoint: Time to accept Patriots running game is what it is

Point/Counterpoint: Time to accept Patriots running game is what it is

Every Friday during the NFL season, Tom E. Curran & Phil Perry will go head-to-head and offer their own takes on a Patriots or NFL-related question. This week, they debate the Patriots running game and exactly how bad it has been halfway through the 2019 campaign.

TIME TO ACCEPT THAT THE PATRIOTS RUN GAME IS WHAT IT IS?

Earlier this week, we listened to sincere frustrations expressed by both running backs coach Ivan Fears and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia about the Patriots inability to run the ball. It would have been a breach of etiquette had I given channeled Robin Williams and taken each man in an embrace while saying, "It's not your fault..." But I wanted to. 

The Patriots rushing attack is bad. And the time to make it go from bad to good is long passed. It won't even get from bad to average before the end of the year. "Why not?" you ask. "They flipped the switch last year?" Blocking. The absence of David Andrews, James Develin, Dwayne Allen, Rob Gronkowski and Trent Brown has hurt immensely. In nearly every instance, the replacement (if there is one) is a significant comedown.

Ted Karras can do much of what Andrews did at center but his mobility isn't as great. And one of the keys of the Patriots attack has been the mobility of their interior linemen.

Develin's gone and the chance of him returning is nil so there's no fullback. Ben Watson, Ryan Izzo and Matt Lacosse are the tight end replacements for Allen and Gronkowski. Watson will compete. Izzo is a disaster. Lacosse is a pass-catcher.

Marshall Newhouse has been the Patriots left tackle this season since Isaiah Wynn got hurt. He is not doing well. Not at all.

Wynn will be back. And the evolution of the offense with Mohamed Sanu and N'Keal Harry involved will continue. But the Patriots - who currently average 3.23 yards per carry - aren't going to scare anyone on the ground in 2019.

*****

Before you accuse me of sitting on the fence, let me be clear: The Patriots run game can be better. There is hope in sight. It won't be one of the worst two or three in the league for the remainder of the season. This is me trying to cut you off at the pass before you shout at me, "BUT YOU...YOU...LOOK AT WHAT YOU WROTE LESS THAN 24 HOURS AGO!"

Yes, I wrote that the Patriots should become more of a spread team. Yes, I wrote that the way the Patriots can get the most talent on the field and find an extra gear offensively is to deploy more receivers and separate themselves as the No. 2 team in football when it comes to 10 personnel (one back, four receivers, no tight ends).

Yes, I wrote that it was time to embrace the fact that they simply are not an effective running team and that they should shift more towards the pass, even with a 42-year-old quarterback who needs to stay healthy for them to have a chance.

However! However, they have to be better than this. They will be better than this. I'm sure of it. Getting Isaiah Wynn back will be a huge windfall for the Patriots. According to Pro Football Focus, Marshall Newhouse has graded out as one of the worst run-blocking tackles in football this year. He checks in at 68th among tackles through eight games, per their run-blocking grade. Wynn will be better than that.

Getting Shaq Mason -- who missed last week with an ankle injury -- healthy will improve things. The bye week could be key for players who've been banged up at different points this season.

Then there's the coaching. Dante Scarnecchia is one of the best in the business for a reason. He won't rest until he comes up with answers. And Josh McDaniels will call more of the run plays that this group has shown it can execute well. For instance, anything that gets either Joe Thuney or Mason on the move typically seems to be a safe bet for yards.

Listen, I believe the Patriots should become more of a spread-it-out-and-chuck-it team. That's what the numbers would tell you. But that doesn't mean they can't muster a better rushing attack. They can and they will.

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