|Patriots offensive line comes together following loss of Dan Connolly||10.13.14 at 12:04 pm ET|
ORCHARD PARK N.Y. — With the injuries to rookies Cameron Fleming (finger) and Bryan Stork (concussion) forcing the pair missing Sunday’s game against the Bills, the Patriots used their fourth different starting offensive line combination of the year and third different one in three games.
After Dan Connolly went down with a head injury and did not return in the second quarter, things needed to be shaken up again, but even when things seemed stacked against them — including a tremendous Buffalo front-four — the grouping answered the call, especially when it mattered most in the second half.
Here is a drive-by-drive breakdown of what the Patriots offensive line looked like (left tackle to right tackle):
Drive 2: Solder, Connolly, Wendell, Kline, Vollmer (Missed field goal)
Drive 3: Solder, Connolly, Wendell, Kline, Vollmer (Touchdown)
Drive 4: Solder, Connolly, Wendell, Kline, Marcus Cannon (Punt)
Drive 5: Solder, Jordan Devey, Wendell, Kline, Vollmer (Punt)
Drive 6: Cannon, Devey, Wendell, Kline, Vollmer (Field goal)
Drive 7: Solder, Devey, Wendell, Kline, Vollmer (Punt)
Drive 8: Solder, Devey, Wendell, Kline, Vollmer (Field goal)
|Nate Solder: Urgency is ‘extremely high, as high as it can get’||10.01.14 at 4:43 pm ET|
“Extremely high, as high as it can get,” Solder described the urgency of the offensive line and team going into Sunday’s game with Cincinnati. “Moving forward we have to improve. We have to get better, we have to play better.”
Through four games this season quarterback Tom Brady has been sacked nine times and hurried another 38 times in 147 drop backs, per Pro Football Focus. Brady hasn’t put up the numbers he has in the past, as his 59.1 completion percentage is 14th in the AFC with only E.J. Manuel and Jake Locker being worse. Part of the reason for his low numbers is the pressure he’s been under and feeling uncomfortable in the pocket.
The team changed things up last week with starting two rookies in center Bryan Stork and Cameron Fleming, who moved to right guard from right tackle for the first time in his entire football life, and deactivated guard Jordan Devey who had started the first three games of the year.
When asked how the unit was operating without their former captain in Mankins, Solder explained it’s a group effort.
“We all work together,” he said. “We have a captain with Dan [Connolly] and we have several guys that have played a lot of ball so we’re moving forward.”
He added: “We keep moving forward. We have plenty of guys that can do it.”
|Patriots offensive line continues to make changes, struggling to find right combination||09.30.14 at 12:29 am ET|
The Patriots made a few changes to the struggling offensive line prior to Monday’s game against the Chiefs by starting two rookies — Bryan Stork at center and Cameron Fleming at right guard (his first time ever playing the position), as well as moving Dan Connolly to left guard.
In addition, the team deactivated Jordan Devey, who had started the first three games of the season. Even with the changes, it did not stick as the team continued to rotate players in and out almost every series throughout the game trying to find a combination that works.
Here is our breakdown of the line (left tackle to right tackle) for each of their 11 drives:
- Drive 1: Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, Sebastian Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 2: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 3: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 4: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Marcus Cannon (Punt)
- Drive 5: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
- Drive 6: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Fumble)
- Drive 7: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Interception)
- Drive 8: Cannon, Connolly, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Touchdown)
- Drive 9: Solder, Connolly, Stork, Ryan Wendell, Vollmer (Interception)
- Drive 10: Solder: Wendell, Stork, Fleming, Cannon (Touchdown)
- Drive 11: Cannon, Wendell, Stork, Fleming, Vollmer (Punt)
|Nate Solder: ‘I don’t think confidence has been a problem’ with offensive line||09.26.14 at 6:56 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s been a brutal week of criticism for everyone along the Patriots’ offensive line.
Even Tom Brady dropped very subtle hints this week that he needs more time to “make better decisions” and expressed concern that sometimes teams “flatten out” in their improvement and never get above a certain level.
But all of that has done nothing to shake the confidence of one those who has heard the most criticism since the Patriots escapted 16-9 Sunday against the Raiders. Nate Solder figures to once again be the starting left tackle, assigned to slowing down Tamba Hali or Justin Houston. Solder says neither he nor any of his offensive line teammates are in a confidence of crisis.
“I don’t think confidence has been a problem,” Solder insisted Friday after practice. “We’ve been building steadily the whole year and we’re going to continue to do that.
“We’re working hard to fix everything. At this point, it’s just a building process. Things hopefully improve but you never know until game day so we work hard every day to make it better.”
As for slowing Hali or Houston, Solder knows what he’s up against.
“Exceptional players, play really hard and make a lot of plays. Huge challenge for us,” Solder said.
Even with the struggles of the offensive line against the Dolphins and Raiders, Solder and Sebastian Vollmer appear to be fairly secure at the left and right tackle spots, respectively. It’s the interior line where the Patriots might decide to shake things up, especially with veteran center Ryan Wendell not appearing on the injury report.
After struggling through the first three games of the season, the Patriots offensive line is looking forward to showing that it can perform at a higher level when it takes the field Monday night in Kansas City.
If the Patriots decide to shake up the offensive line, such as starting rookie Bryan Stork at center, moving Dan Connolly to right guard or even swapping out left guard Marcus Cannon, they’ll be doing do in one of the most hostile environments in football – Arrowhead Stadium. But Solder, who played in the Big 12 at Colorado, says he’s not overly concerned.
“I imagine the crowd will get into it at some point but our main opponent is the Chiefs so that’s what we’re really focused on.”
|Nate Solder: ‘I’d like to shore up my pass protection’||09.24.14 at 7:26 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Give Nate Solder credit for this much: he knows exactly where improvement in his game begins. He admitted Wednesday that if he doesn’t do a better job blocking for Tom Brady‘s blindside, the Patriots offense has little chance of improving.
“I’d like to shore up my pass protection,” Solder told reporters in front of his locker. “I’d like to work better with the offensive line and do some of those things better that I haven’t been doing well.”
On Sunday in the 16-9 win over the Raiders, Solder allowed three quarterback hits on the franchise and at least one hurry. Solder had particular trouble against Raiders rookie sensation Khalil Mack and veteran lineman Justin Tuck.
But if Solder thought those two were tough, he could be having nightmares about what’s coming up the next two weeks. On Monday night in Kansas City, while he’s trying to battle the noise at Arrowhead and the communication on the line, he’ll have to deal with either Tamba Hali or Justin Houston, both outside linebackers. That will be followed up by Cincinnati’s Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry six days later at Gillette Stadium.
“We’re going to practice at a high pace and high tempo and try to get as prepared as we can for any sort of circumstances that may arise,” Solder said.
There’s been plenty of speculation this week that there is a serious issue with cohesion and leadership on the offensive line and that there might even be dissension with new offensive line coach Dave DeGugielmo. The Patriots offensive line reportedly came in extra early Wednesday morning for meetings. Solder acknowledged the issues of unity when he said the offensive line needs to close ranks and get on the same page heading into Kansas City.
“Yeah, you’ve got to have to have some cohesion and some unity going into that situation,” Solder said. “Every week in this league you have to be improving, especially when you’re not playing where you want to be, you have to make strides throughout the course of the week.”
How bad has it been? Brady has taken six sacks, 10 hits and has been hurried 28 times in the first three weeks.
“I think the problem is we’re not playing the way we’d like to play and we’re going to continue to work on that,” Solder said.
|Dan Connolly, Nate Solder vow better effort in protecting Tom Brady||09.10.14 at 8:58 pm ET|
FOXBORO — There’s a time-tested expression in the NFL that the film don’t lie.
This week, every Patriots offensive lineman had to sit through meetings early in the week and take a look at what happened in Miami and figure out why it was open season on Tom Brady last Sunday.
Teams that take a look at that film are going to think that they can pin their ears back and get to Brady. It’s up to veterans like Nate Solder and Dan Connolly to bring the unit together and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I think that’s a goal a lot of times when teams play us,” newly appointed captain Dan Connolly said Wednesday. “It’s up to us to make sure we firm up the pocket and protect the quarterback. We just have to put the last game behind us.”
“Man, we’re working on everything,” Solder added. “We didn’t feel real happy with anything we did last game so we went back to our fundamentals and are working on everything. It’s a lot of basic stuff. It’s a lot of stuff that we know how to do and can improve.
“There is a process of developing your own skills, no matter who you’re playing against. But as the week goes, you have to hone in on your skills for a particular opponent. It’s a combination because (the Dolphins) are very good players and that made it tough on us when we didn’t use the proper techniques.”
In a game that featured musical chairs along the line, Connolly was the only lineman to play two positions, as he alternated from starting center to left guard.
“I was the guy moving. I do my job in both spots and just focus on that,” Connolly said.
The biggest difference at right guard and center?
“I don’t have to snap the ball,” Connolly said of playing right guard. “I’m looking at the same thing the center is looking at. The center is a little more vocal, making sure everybody is on the same page but as a whole, we all need to know what’s going on, see where the linebackers are and kind of anticipate where pressures are coming and ultimately, just block the front.
Connolly, when at center, is calling out protections along the line and is the man responsible for bringing together the likes of Solder, Marcus Cannon, Jordan Devey, Cameron Fleming, Ryan Wendell, Bryan Stork and Sebastian Vollmer
“There’s definitely a chemistry involved but I think we do a good job here of rotating guys through and building a chemistry with multiple groups, and not just playing with five guys in practice and throw somebody else in there and it’s confusion,” Connolly said. “We play with different guys so I think we’re ready when other guys come into the game.
“You never know when you’re going to lose a guy so guys always have to be ready.”
|Newly-formed Patriots offensive line ‘gaining a familiarity’||09.08.14 at 9:19 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots offensive line without Logan Mankins did not get off to a good start.
According to Pro Football Focus, the offensive line surrendered 23 total pressures on 56 pass attempts, forcing quarterback Tom Brady to be under constant duress in Sunday’s 33-20 loss to the Dolphins in Miami.
The Patriots started with an offensive line of Nate Solder at left tackle, Marcus Cannon at left guard, Dan Connolly at center, Jordan Devey at right guard and Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle, but that was constantly changing as the team rotated all linemen who dressed for the game in and out.
Pro Football Focus also had Connolly, Cannon and Solder playing every offensive snap with Vollmer only missing one play. Devey saw significant time playing 64 snaps, followed by Ryan Wendell with 22. Rookie Cameron Fleming played more as a tight end on his four plays in the game.
“In this game we planned on playing all of our linemen, which we did,” Bill Belichick said in a conference call Monday. “We used Cam [Fleming] in some of our personnel groupings as a tight end and we used four guys to play the three positions inside. We felt like they all had played well, deserved to play, so that’s how we played them. I would say we didn’t really have a lot of communication issues. We just had some fundamental and technique — we had more fundamental and technique breakdowns than we did just bad — an assortment of mental errors. That was true defensively as well. I don’t think it was a game where there was a lot of missed assignments. It was more, I would say, a lack of execution of good fundamentals.”
It was the first regular season game for the group, as well as with new offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. The grouping did not perform up to past standards as they allowed a total of four sacks. Solder, a three-year veteran, said Monday their struggles could have had something to do with the number of players rotating in and out without establishing any continuity.
“There might have been a little of that,” Solder said. “I think it’s just a matter of going through a lot of things together, gaining a familiarity. I think it will all work together if we continue to do the things we’re coached to do.”
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