The New England Patriots will be a man down in Week 3 after starting center David Andrews underwent surgery on his broken thumb. The timeframe for this injury is not yet official, but he’s already been ruled out for the matchup against the 2-0 Las Vegas Raiders. Andrews is one of the better centers in the league, but are the Patriots equipped to handle his loss?
New England Patriots Offensive Line Without David Andrews
The New Starter
At his best, David Andrews is one of the best centers in the league. A force in both the passing and running game, Andrews is capable lining up against just about any defensive tackle and doing his job. The best game of his career came in Super Bowl LIII, when Andrews (with help from Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason) helped to eliminate superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Of course, this isn’t New England’s first time without Andrews. The star center missed the entirety of 2019 with blood clots in his lungs, and the offensive line took a step back without him. While his absence was far from the only reason for 2019’s relatively disappointing season, it is worth noting that this was the first season in a decade where the Patriots failed to reach the AFC Championship Game.
Andrews looked like his old self early in 2020, ranking as the fourth-best center in football by PFF grade. With him out of the picture, the Patriots will likely turn to second-year pro Hjalte Froholdt. The 2019 fourth rounder missed his rookie season to injury and has yet to play a single offensive snap in his career. Outside of his college tape and brief snapshots from the 2019 preseason, there is no way to know how good he is at the game of football.
Based on his college tape, Froholdt has the versatility and aggressiveness that Bill Belichick craves in his offensive lineman. He played guard and center in college, but he’s a much better fit for center. His subpar lateral agility won’t be as big of an issue, and the same goes for his relatively rough pass blocking technique. While he probably won’t be a star, he should be good enough for the short-term.
New England’s Center Usage
All offensive line positions are important, but center is probably the least important of the bunch. This is a gross oversimplification, but centers tend to face the weakest pass-rushing opponents and can most easily be helped in blocking schemes. Obviously, there are exceptions, as just about any part of football is too complex to be explained in just a paragraph. However, for the sake of simplicity, a great football mind like Bill Belichick should be able to make due, as long as Froholdt isn’t an outright disaster.
The Patriots have embraced a run-heavy attack with Cam Newton, and that might have to change without Andrews. According to Sharp Football Stats, the Patriots have a 54% success rates on runs behind center, which is slightly above the league-average mark of 53%. They also run behind center on 13% of their rushing carries, the highest rate of any position.
This will probably change with Andrews out, as a higher percentage of carries could go behind left guard Joe Thuney. While we are dealing with a small sample, the Patriots have a 14% success rate above expectation on runs behind left guard. This makes sense, as Thuney is one of the best guards in the league and Shaq Mason is a great pull guard on runs to the left. This success should be sustainable, so don’t be surprised if you see more runs to the left side of the offensive line.
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