David Andrews returned to the Patriots practice field prior to the bye weekend and again during Wednesday's first practice of the week as signs are pointing toward the return of the important captain after having missed two games with a concussion.
"Doing good," Andrews told the media as he took to the podium on Wednesday evening. "Excited to be back, get to go play the game I love so I'm excited."
"I think David's a great leader on our team," said Mac Jones following Andrews at the podium. "He's played against a lot of different defenses, played on some really good teams, so he provides that positive energy and obviously is a great football player, but it's a lot of the other things too. He's kind of the bell cow of that whole deal. He does a great job, really happy with him and everybody else too."
There's little secret about how important the "bell cow" is to the line and the offense as a whole, but it was further on display in the two games he missed, with the team producing two of their lowest offensive outputs of the season despite pulling out wins in both. Most glaring were the seven sacks that Mac Jones took against the Jets, as pass rushers were able to disrupt New England's offensive rhythm throughout the game. In neither game did the Patriots surpass 200 yards passing.
On the season, Andrews comes in as the Patriots second-highest graded offensive lineman on the team (71.0) behind Michael Onwenu (86.0) according to Pro Football Focus. Overall, the Patriots pass blockers have allowed 21 sacks but with an adjusted sack rate of 8.9 percent which lands them at 26th in the league. Other advanced stats aren't much better, with the 28th ranking in power runs (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown), and 17th in both stuffed run ranked and open field yards. Directional analysis shows the 19th overall ranking while running toward the left end, 30th behind the left tackle, 13th up the middle, 20th behind the right tackle and sixth toward the right end.
Andrews' return should help restore the team's rushing strength up the middle but the veteran center can't singlehandedly fix everything. His presence will be valuable when it comes to settling rookie Cole Strange, who was pulled from both contests that Andrews missed, but will do little to impact the right tackle spot where the team has been searching for consistent solid play all season long. The offense needs better production and it all starts up front with consistency.
"That's a big thing, we've gotta stop hurting ourselves," said Andrews. "When we put together complete games and do the right things, stay ahead [of the chains] and cut down on penalties, that's a recipe for football no matter what. We gotta do a better job of that. It was what it was the last eight, nine weeks, we've got a clean slate, everyone in the league has a clean slate coming off the bye. These last weeks we can determine what it is or what it looks like."
With a slate of daunting defensive fronts on tap in the coming weeks, a healthy Andrews is an important piece for the Patriots playoff hopes. His leadership and experience will be welcome back on the field and could be just the post-bye boost the offense needs.