Two games in, the arrow points up for Patriots rookie guard Cole Strange
September 20th, 2022
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Cole Strange #69 of the New England Patriots signs autographs after a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
It’s too much to say the needle is “finally” moving for Patriots rookie guard Cole Strange. But after a grind of a summer for the offensive line and months of hazy draft reactions, it feels like the first-round pick’s emergence in his second career game was long overdue.
The Patriots, their coaches, the fans in New England, and Strange’s teammates have to feel good about the direction the rookie is headed in after an impressive showing against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. Mark Daniels of the Providence Journal charted Strange for just one QB hit allowed, on a day that quarterback Mac Jones was hit just three times total and never sacked. Strange often drew matchups against Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who was a first team All-Pro in 2021.
There were times that Heyward pushed Strange back or otherwise gave him the kind of challenge you’d expect. But the rookie came up with a big drive when the Pats needed it, as the run game bled the clock out from over six minutes left in regulation.
You can see in the below video clip (h/t Chris Mason) of the Patriots’ game-deciding running plays that Strange was matched up against Heyward on both snaps, and blew the veteran pass-rusher back several yards on both plays. That played a big role in opening a pair of big lanes for Damien Harris, who picked up the first down on third-and-3 and iced the win for good.
Game on the line.
Patriots decide to run to Cole Strange's side on back-to-back plays. He beats Cam Heyward (97) handily on both reps. Look where Heyward winds up on the first one. pic.twitter.com/iVV0FdPTKx
Strange didn’t draw the ideal kind of attention for a first-round pick, as many (including myself) wondered why Bill Belichick would target a guard with the 29th pick when he’s proven able to find good starters in the third (Joe Thuney) or fourth round (Shaq Mason). So Strange will have to play at a Pro-Bowl level or better in order to justify his first-round stock.
But that’s certainly not Strange’s fault. All he can do is just go out and play. Thankfully, he told Tyler Dunne in his own colorful way that he’s unbothered by all that draft chatter.
“No! F*** no! I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’ I didn’t give a s**t,” Strange said. “The coaches, the guys on the team, it’s all about culture and winning and just playing ball and working your ass off. That’s all I’ve ever wanted. I love it.”
Watch below for another video clip, this time thanks to CBS producer Ben Fennell on Twitter. Here, you can see Strange hold his own against Heyward, but also take care of two pass-rushers in succession to prevent a stunt rusher from getting to Jones.
It was beyond encouraging to see the Patriots offensive line perform the way it did overall, which was a big step up from what we saw for most of the summer and an improvement over Week 1 in Miami. Strange still has a long way to go to prove he can consistently play at a high level, but Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh was a glimpse at his potential.
Strange and the Patriots now get ready for a big challenge against the Baltimore Ravens, which will take place on Sunday at Gillette Stadium in the Pats’ 2022 season opener. We’ll continue to keep you covered on everything with the Patriots here at 985TheSportsHub.com.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. You can also email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.