|Why the 2012 Patriots offensive line is the best of Tom Brady’s career||12.01.12 at 2:45 pm ET|
At the start of the season, it certainly appeared the Patriots’ offensive line was going to be in for a tough year.
The group was coming off an offseason of change — veteran left tackle Matt Light retired, while both starting left guard Logan Mankins and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer were coming off major injuries that limited their effectiveness in 2011. After a Pro Bowl season, right guard Brian Waters didn’t return, and center Dan Koppen was one of the final cuts before the start of the season. Those factors, combined with a preseason that saw them try multiple combinations on the line — some of which struggled badly — made many believe that this was going to be a rough year up front.
But despite the fact that the group has had little to no overall consistency this season, through 11 games, the group has not only survived, it has thrived. They will face a mighty challenge from San Francisco and Houston (two teams with terrific defensive fronts) at the end of the season, but to this point on the schedule, here are five reasons why the 2012 New England offense line is the best offensive line of Tom Brady’s career.
1. Lack of sacks and other pressure: We tend to get caught up in sacks when it comes to measuring the worth of an offensive line, but it has to be mentioned that the New England offensive line has done a masterful job keeping Brady clean this year — over the first 11 games of the season. Brady has been sacked 15 times. The 15 sacks are tied for the third-fewest total in the league — the Patriots trail only the Giants (13 sacks allowed), Buccaneers (14) and Broncos (14), and are tied with the Texans. In addition, the 36 quarterback hits that have been allowed by the New England offensive line is fifth in the league, trailing only the Broncos (28), Buccaneers (30), Titans (31) and Giants (34).
It’s a pace that would see him finish the year with 21 sacks, his fewest since 2009 when he was sacked 16 times. (For what it’s worth, Brady was sacked 21 times in 2007.) With 36 quarterbacks hits through 11 games, that would add up to 52 over 16 games — the fewest since 2010, when the line gave up the same number. (For Brady’s complete career sack numbers, click HERE.) Currently, the New England offensive line is in the midst of an impressive streak when it comes to protection: it hasn’t allowed a sack since the third quarter of a Nov. 11 win over the Bills in Foxboro. That’s a stretch of nine-plus quarters, or 146:18 of game action.
(For what it’s worth, it’s hard to get much pressure on a team that runs as much hurry up as the Patriots do. Opposing defensive coordinators have a hard enough time keeping the right number of players on the field consistently, let alone knowing which plays to call. Regardless, lack of pressure is lack of pressure.)
2. Smarter football: The Patriots offensive line has cut way back on penalties over the last year. Through 11 games last season, the New England offensive line had been flagged for 20 penalties for 151 yards, the most of any positional group on the team. In that same stretch in 2012, the line has a total of eight penalties for 55 yards.
3. The running game: Some of the biggest fans of the fact that the Patriots now have a consistent running presence? The offensive line. Any offensive lineman will tell you that it’s easier — and frankly, a lot more fun — to run block instead of pass block. In run blocking, you’re going forward and getting a chance to hit someone instead of hanging back and protecting. To that point, through 11 games, the Patriots have run the ball 71 more times than they did through the same stretch of games in 2011.
But it goes deeper than that. The bigger numbers in the running game means pass protection numbers get better simply because of the fact that there are fewer dropbacks and fewer opportunities to rush the quarterback. And the increased presence of the running game means that teams have to respect the possibility of play-action, which means that opposing defensive lines are always kept on their collective toes.
|Friday free-for-all: Captain Devin McCourty and Nate Solder is confident||09.07.12 at 11:31 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Leadership is something that’s not taken for granted with the Patriots, nor is it bestowed lightly.
So when Devin McCourty was honored on Thursday as one of six team captains, he was humbled that his teammates felt he had what it takes in his third NFL season to lead the Patriots defense on the field.
“It’s an honor,” McCourty said Friday. “Whenever you can get voted by a bunch of your peers and your teammates as someone they feel is a leader. I think it’s an honor and I’m just going to try and do my duties and be a leader for these guys.”
McCourty joins Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo as captains on defense while Tom Brady and Logan Mankins are offensive captains and Matthew Slater rounds out the captains for the 2012 Patriots on special teams.
“Just trying to do whatever I think the team needs,” McCourty said. “I think we have some great leaders on this team so I think we’re just trying to feed off each other.”
McCourty has advice for the younger players, including the rookies, who will be making their NFL debut this Sunday.
“When you get out there on the field, the speed picks up a little more,” McCourty said. “I think the rookies will see it’s not as friendly. In the preseason, a lot of times you’re going against a lot of guys you went to school with, guys that are free agents get on teams. Once you start talking about each game matters, you get in the regular season and guys are really focused on just trying to win. I think the pace and the attitude changes a little bit.
“I’ve just been telling the guys to just remember that at the end of the day, it’s football. You’ve been playing football your whole life. It’s a bigger stage but it’s the next stage for you. Just be prepared and try to stay settled.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Logan Mankins on his knee and the O-Line: ‘Hopefully, it feels good all year’||09.06.12 at 1:29 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Logan Mankins is more than aware of his leadership role and the vital role he plays now more than ever on the Patriots offensive line.
Whether he’s at 100 percent or not after right knee ACL surgery in February, Mankins is the glue that is keeping the line together.
“It’s good right now so still getting lots of ice and trying to take care of it the best I can and hopefully it feels good all year,” Mankins said Thursday, just over 72 hours from his first real test of the season against the Titans in Tennessee. “Of course, I never knew how fast I would heal and everything would progress. So far, it’s been good”
Could he play most – if not the entire game – on Sunday?
“It’s a possibility. It’s always tough. But it goes for everyone in the league. Not everyone plays a full game in the preseason so it’s different for everyone. Myself, not having too many reps I just have to trust in my conditioning and hopefully, it’s good enough.”
“It was difficult. We’re still only barely past six months so it hasn’t been that long. We’re still taking it day-by-day, still improves every day so it’s getting better.”
As for the changes all along the offensive line, Mankins believes the work-in-progress is coming along.
“It’s coming together,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of guys miss a lot of time so we’re still working on it and we have a lot of work to do between here and Sunday and hopefully, we can put our best on the field Sunday, play good together. We have to trust in each other and work together.
“We’re going against a good team,” Mankins said of the Titans D. “They’re a young defense. They’re very athletic, very fast and they play really hard. So, it’s going to be a big challenge. The main thing is you do your job and trust them to do theirs and everything will be fine. It’s when we start worrying about what the guy next to you is doing is when things get messed up.”
Mankins said he’s not concerned with all of the new faces in the locker room right now as the Patriots have the youngest roster in Bill Belichick‘s 13 years in Foxboro. Read the rest of this entry »
|Bill Belichick on Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon: ‘They did a pretty good job’ against Eagles||08.21.12 at 9:13 pm ET|
The two Patriots starting tackles — Nate Solder on the left side and Marcus Cannon on the right side — appeared to struggle at times on Monday against the Eagles. They were both victimized on a strip-sack when Phillip Hunt blew past Cannon and Darryl Tapp flew past Solder. To compound the problems, Cannon was flagged for holding. It was the second penalty of the preseason for Cannon and the fourth for the offensive line through two games.
On Tuesday afternoon, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised the work of Solder and Cannon, saying “those guys handled their situations” against a difficult Philadelphia pass rush.
“They did a pretty good job,” Belichick said of Solder and Cannon. “It’s a very good front that the Eagles have and they have some depth in it too. They rotate guys through — they have good depth up front. I thought those guys did a pretty good job. Not perfect obviously, there are certainly things that they need to improve on too; there were a couple plays that they can learn from. But overall, I thought they did a pretty solid job.”
The Patriots offensive line is really worth keeping an eye on this week. After two weeks, it figures to get some help this week with the return of two veterans: After spending spring and the first part of summer on the sidelines because of offseason knee surgery, left guard Logan Mankins is set to continue his second week of practice in pads. Meanwhile, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is also reportedly set to come off PUP, and while it’s unlikely he’ll play against the Bucs on Friday, his return should further stabilize the offensive line and create some continuity for a group that has had problems with consistency over the last month.
|Nate Solder: ‘I need to improve on my technique’||at 2:50 am ET|
FOXBORO — Nate Solder isn’t about to doubt himself now.
After another rough outing at starting left tackle, he was asked about his transition to the spot once held by Matt Light.
“Well, I spent a lot time there with OTAs and now a lot of camp,” Solder said after New England’s 27-17 loss to the Eagles Monday night. “I feel good there and I want to continue to work there and get better at that spot. I need to improve on my technique sometimes.”
The fact of the matter is that the Patriots offensive line could look drastically different come opening day in Nashville against the Tennessee Titans. Logan Mankins could be starting at left guard. Brian Waters could be coming back from his extended summer break and Sebastian Vollmer could finally be healthy.
The only way Solder is going to feel confident, though, is to show he can handle the best competition in the game.
That was certainly not a problem Monday night as Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri came after the quarterback with intensity.
“We worked hard; we tried to take the most from it that we could,” Solder said. “They absolutely are great pass rushers, so it’s a great challenge for us and it’s a great way to keep learning and getting better.”
So, the big question is: Does Solder feel like he and the line are getting better?
“It’s a building process and this is the next step,” Solder said. “As long as we keep continuing to get better every day, that’s kind of my goal right now.”
Solder was on the field as Brian Hoyer was sacked twice and the running game could generate only 60 yards in 29 carries.
“They’re great pass rushers and that’s kind of their focus, definitely,” Solder said. “It’s definitely an exciting proposition to come against those good pass rushers like that, that are really trying to get pressure on the quarterback, and that’s their focus. Going into that game, that was a great challenge for us.”
It also goes a long ways toward explaining why Tom Brady didn’t take one snap in the game.
|Ten things we learned from Day 8 of Patriots training camp||08.03.12 at 5:08 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Friday was more of the same for the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, as it featured more football and more fighting.
The fighting yielded some serious discipline and lectures (see below), but ultimately it was a positive day for the Pats as they looked much healthier from an attendance standpoint.
Fifth-round pick Nate Ebner, who has been out with an undisclosed injury, made his first appearance of training camp Friday. Receivers Brandon Lloyd, Jabar Gaffney and Deion Branch, all of whom have missed some time over the last few days, were present as well. Jonathan Fanene was absent for a third straight day.
Here are nine other things we learned from Day 8 of training camp:
MORE FIGHTS, MAJOR LAPS
Bill Belichick finally had enough of the fighting in training camp. After the second of two fracases Friday, the coach yelled for the team to start running, and every player — and even coaches, including Pepper Johnson and Dante Scarnecchia — ran three laps. For what it’s worth, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett were the fastest of the bunch.
The first dustup started between Bobby Carpenter and Ryan Wendell. Carpenter lost his balance while shooting the gap, and Wendell emphatically threw him down. After the two got into it, Patrick Chung jumped in. After another fight, this time between Brandon Deaderick and Darrion Weens, Belichick ordered the laps.
“Coach Belichick talked to us,” Carpenter said after the practice. “Hopefully that won’t happen again. We can’t be fighting ourselves.”
THE BIRTHDAY BOY SPEAKS UP
The coach wasn’t the only one to talk. After the players finished their three laps, Belichick addressed the huddled players. Tom Brady, celebrating his 35th birthday, then kicked the coaches out and addressed his teammates in a player-only huddle.
SPEAKING OF LAPS, NATE SOLDER IS GETTING USED TO THEM
Two days after his cheap shot on Brandon Spikes caused a scuffle and earned him a penalty lap, second-year tackle Nate Solder once again had to take a jog around the practice field. It was unclear what the infraction was that caused the lap, as he was beaten in a one-on-one battle, but that rarely warrants punishment from coaches.
FOR HIS BIRTHDAY, BRADY GOT SOME HEALTHY WEAPONS
The Patriots’ receivers have gone in and out over the last few days, but Friday saw the return of Lloyd, Gaffney and Branch. There didn’t seem to be much of a re-acclimation process for the veteran receivers, as they participated regularly in passing drills.
THE WIND WASN’T ANYONE’S FRIEND
There was a stiff wind blowing from the west that made things difficult for special teamers. Punter Zoltan Mesko shanked his punts at times, and punt returners Julian Edelman, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez all muffed their catches at different points of drills.
Somewhat strangely, kicker Stephen Gostkowski pushed his kicks wide right (against the wind) routinely in practice, though he may have been aiming to hit the right post.
YOU READ THAT RIGHT: AARON HERNANDEZ WAS RETURNING PUNTS
The third-year tight end fielded punts Friday along with Edelman and Welker. He got off to a good start when punt return work began, as he was the last of the three to fumble. He let the ball bounce out of bounds on his first turn, but muffed one later in the drills.
WE ONCE AGAIN DIDN’T LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT BRIAN WATERS
Patriots personnel chief Nick Caserio was asked prior to the practice whether there was any update on the veteran guard, to which he replied, “No update there.”
Waters has yet to make an appearance in training camp thus far. The team has the 35-year-old on the reserve/did not report list.
Brady’s primary backup turned in an impressive day. Hoyer let ‘er rip Friday, launching a couple of bombs that drew some loud cheers from a crowd that had already sung Happy Birthday to another quarterback.
The first of Hoyer’s impressive passes came on a play action play in 11-on-11s in which he hit Gaffney, who beat James Ihedigbo. The second was to Britt Davis on a deep route against no defenders.
MALLETT STILL HASN’T
While Hoyer has continued to look like he could potentially lead an NFL offense, Mallett hasn’t done anything to suggest he could leapfrog Hoyer on the depth chart. The Patriots seem to see it that way as well. While Brady and Hoyer threw to receivers in passing drills midway through practice, Mallett participated in a drill with running backs, working out of the shotgun and hitting backs with screens and short passes.
|Nate Solder, Brandon Spikes tussle at practice||08.01.12 at 9:37 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Season ticket-holders were treated to a little extra Wednesday, as the Patriots’ private indoor practice was highlighted by a scrap between Nate Solder and Brandon Spikes that started when Solder took a shot at the third-year linebacker that Spikes — and coaches — weren’t thrilled with.
Spikes left the field limping after the altercation (he would return later in practice), while Solder had to run a penalty lap. Other players jumped into the fracas, with Tom Brady holding Jerod Mayo from running in.
After the practice, cornerback Kyle Arrington noted that such incidents “happen often” throughout the league in camp.
“It’s a time to beat up on each other,” Arrington said. “We see each other every day. You grow tired of people this time of year. That’s the nature of it.”
First-round pick Chandler Jones stayed out of the it altogether, noting afterward that unlike his brother, who competes in the UFC, he isn’t a fighter.
“You know what? I’m not Jon ‘Bones’ Jones,” he said. “My name is Chandler.”
The Patriots are in the dog days of camp (Bill Belichick‘s words), and if Wednesday’s tussle says anything, it’s that the intensity has remained high after six days of being back on the field.
“That’s how we practice every day,” Jones said. “I don’t know if you guys think it was different than it was before, but that’s how we practice every day. It’s very intense. We treat every day like it was game day.”
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