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Bye-week breakdown: Offensive line

11.11.13 at 7:15 am ET
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With the Patriots off this weekend, we’€™ve got our Bye-Week Breakdown, a position-by-position look at the team. We kicked things off with a look at the special teamers, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends and quarterback. We finish off the offense with the offensive line.

Overview: Over the first nine games, the New England offensive line has faced some of the best defensive fronts in the league — the Jets and Bengals have eaten up good offenses, and stymied the Patriots as well. And there are plenty of times where the group has looked truly elite — if you put a stopwatch on quarterback Tom Brady while he’s been in the pocket, he’s had five-plus seconds to deliver the ball, which should be enough to find a target and properly execute the play

At the same time, it’s clear that something is not right with this group. Whether it’s injuries, personnel, scheme or opponent, there have been times where they’ve struggled as a group. They hold themselves to an almost impossibly high standard, and so they will be the first to tell you their performance hasn’t been enough over the first nine games of the season. A few days after an ugly Oct. 20 loss to the Jets, left guard Logan Mankins acknowledged they have been some problems up front.

“It’€™s not all on us, but there’€™s enough of it on us,” he said when talking about the struggles of the offense and the offensive line. “A perfect example is the other [afternoon]. Come out in third quarter, sack, sack. A lot of that was on us. Mental assignments. Guys just getting beat. Whenever the line’€™s not playing good, it’€™s hard to score for us.

“We expect a lot out of ourselves and I think that’€™s why we were disappointed after the game the other night. We thought we played good until the end of the second half there. Third quarter was bad, and then I think we played better in the fourth. But we had that lull right there in the third quarter that hurt us and hurt the team. We can’€™t just play like that.”

Despite the fact that the line is missing right tackle Sebastian Vollmer for the rest of the season, given the history of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia and the majority of players currently in place — particularly Mankins and left tackle Nate Solder — there’s no reason to think that this group won’t be able to eventually diagnose the issues it currently faces and get things turned around between now and the end of the season. (It should get a boost from the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski to something close to full health — he’s universally accorded as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league.) While much is made of the turnover at the skill positions and the fact that they have had to learn how to play together as a group, the offensive line is just as important to the success of the Patriots down the stretch and into the postseason.

Depth chart: Left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly, right tackle Marcus Cannon, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, tackle Will Svitek, Chris Barker, Josh Kline.

Best moment: The line was dominant in a September win over the Falcons, helping control the tempo and being physical with the Atlanta defensive front. In addition, it’s been mentioned several times before for several other offensive positions, but the game against the Steelers was another good afternoon for the group.

Worst moment: At the start of the second half in the Oct. 20 loss to the Jets, the first six offensive plays for the Patriots went as follows: sack/interception/four-gain gain/five-yard gain/no gain/sack. By the end of the quarter, a 21-10 lead turned into a 27-21 deficit. By Mankins’ own admission, it went south at the start of the third, thanks in large part to breakdowns along the offensive line.

By the numbers: In nine games, Brady has been sacked 26 times. He was sacked 27 times in all of 2012 and 32 times in 2011. He’s on pace to be sacked 46 times, which is a career-high.

Money quote: ‘€œI think that, yes we have given up more sacks at this point than we did all last season. Believe me, I understand that. So, what is it? I think that I probably have to do a better job coaching and getting them to do things better. I think our players are working at it very hard ‘€¦ and you know, sacks are a byproduct of a lot of different things. So, I’€™ll pretty much just leave it at that and hopefully, as we’€™ve said, we’€™re going to try and [be] better doing the things that we’€™re doing going forward.’€ — Dante Scarnecchia, Nov. 5.

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