|Patriots offensive line at full strength vital to offense, Tom Brady’s success||01.07.15 at 7:00 am ET|
Not be to overlooked is the Patriots’ offensive line, especially with the group likely getting back to full strength this week against Baltimore, as Dan Connolly is set to return. This will be especially important going against a Ravens defense, which finished second in the regular season in sacks with 49.
“I’m just excited to be back at practice,” Connolly said Tuesday after missing the last two games with a knee injury. “I’m going to do my best to work in and try to get as healthy as I can. But it’s good to be back out.”
Just how important is a healthy offense line for the Patriots offense and Brady to be successful?
- Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell, Vollmer (7-1 record) — Weeks 5, 8-14: Brady: 214-320 (66.9 percent), 2,433 yards, 21 TDs, 6 INTs, 103.6 QB rating, 4 sacks
- Any combination besides above (5-3 record) — Weeks 1-4, 6, 7, 15, 16: Brady: 160-263 (60.8 percent), 1,675 yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs, 89.8 QB rating, 17 sacks
It’s pretty clear having the starting offensive line together makes a huge difference for the offense, as well as Brady in a number of different ways. The biggest difference is sacks. In the same number of games (eight) there is a 13 sack difference between when the starting offensive line is playing and when they are not. In games not started by the regular offensive line, Brady has been sacked multiple times in five of the eight, and four times twice. In games started by the starting offensive line, they haven’t allowed a multiple sack game and had four games allowing zero sacks, which will be especially important this weekend against a strong Ravens defense.
“They’re great,” Connolly said of the Ravens’ pass rush. “[Elvis] Dumervil has got 19 sacks. They do a great job of getting to the quarterback. We’ve faced a lot of good D-lines this season. That’s nothing new in the NFL. It’s a lot of pressure on us to do a good job. That’s what we try to do every week. It’s our job to make sure Tom [Brady] stays upright, so that’s what we’re going to try to do this week, too.”
|Patriots OL needs to be better going into postseason||12.28.14 at 7:57 pm ET|
FOXBORO — If there is one thing to be hesitant about going into the postseason for the Patriots offense, it is the play of its offensive line.
Without starters Dan Connolly (knee) and Sebastian Vollmer (back), forcing a starting offensive line (left-to-right) of Nate Solder, Josh Kline, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon Sunday against the Bills — Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo, particularly Garoppolo in the second half, were under constant pressure all game long.
Overall, the Bills hit Patriots quarterbacks six times and recorded four sacks in the game. This comes after last week’s game against the Jets where the Patriots were reshuffling their line all game without Connolly to give Brady more time, but allowed a season-high four sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
“We didn’t play very well. We just didn’t do our jobs,” Wendell said Sunday.
The Patriots did some reshuffling again against the Bills, as late in the first half the Patriots subbed out Kline, and replaced him with Wendell at left guard and Cameron Fleming at right guard. Then, just before the half Solder appeared to injure his right leg on a play he was called for holding on. He finished the last minute of the half before limping to the locker room. In the second half, Cannon moved to left tackle, so the line went: Cannon, Kline, Stork, Wendell, Fleming.
Missing key players in Connolly and Vollmer, then losing Solder in the game made things difficult to get any sort of continuity up front.
“It was a good opportunity to get some other guys some reps,” Wendell said. “We’re going to need everybody moving forward. You never knew who’s going to get called up, so a game like this was a great opportunity to get a lot of those guys more reps that they normally don’t get.”
|Cameron Wake on success against Patriots: Big players have to step up in big games and make big plays||12.11.14 at 6:00 am ET|
Wake has picked up 8.5 sacks in 11 career games against the Patriots, including two in this season’s opener, which make him one of the tougher defensive ends the Patriots go up against all year. Making matters even worse, since he is in their division they have to face him twice.
“It might help that we play them twice a year. That might throw the numbers in there a little bit,” Wake said of his success against the Patriots on a conference call Wednesday. “I feel like every time we go out there, usually it’s a big game. The minute I started playing boy’s club basketball, my coach told me big players have to step up in big games and make big plays. Obviously, these are big games when we come to face each other. I look at myself as a big player, and I feel like whatever I can do to help the team out, whatever my role is, and occasionally it is getting to the quarterback. I try my best to get the job done.”
The Penn State product lines up on the left side of the defense more often that not and says that is mostly because of his early years with the Dolphins when veteran Jason Taylor was occupying the right side, leaving no where else for Wake to go. With the success that he’s had, he’s continued to rush almost exclusively from that side.
This makes for an intense matchup each time the Patriots and Dolphins meet with Wake and Patriots right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.
“When you start to go after guys and start playing more and more and more, you get familiar with each other,” said Wake. “Obviously, he’s going to do everything to play to his strengths and so am I. That familiarity is something that you both have to overcome. He’s studying everything he can to make his day successful on Sunday and so am I. Another good football player, a guy who is going to battle you and fight you every day and every snap, every time we grind against each other.
|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)
|5 things you have to know about Dolphins||09.01.14 at 9:35 pm ET|
Here are five things you have to know about the Dolphins, who are looking to break the Patriots’ 10-game winning streak when it comes to regular-season openers Sunday in South Florida.
1. They are going to look to push the pace offensively.
Miami imported former Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Lazor to serve as its new OC, and in an attempt to give the offense a jolt, he’s expected to bring a little Chip Kelly-style flair to the proceedings. That means faster football, and given the fact that the Patriots will be entering into what’s expected to be sweltering South Florida heat, the Dolphins will try and use a quicker tempo to their advantage. For what it’s worth, Miami has been a little quicker than the average NFL team over the last two years under Joe Philbin. Measured using situation-neutral offensive pace — a formula from Football Outsiders that eliminates things like two-minute drills and late-game clock-killing situations to get a truer idea of the offense’s intentions when it comes to offensive pace — the 2012 Dolphins were ninth overall at one play every 29.23 seconds, and last year, on average, they ran one play every 30.08 seconds, 14th quickest in the NFL. Of course, it’s debatable how effective the uptempo style will be. But it’s important to remember that Lazor played a sizable role in the growth and development of Nick Foles in Philly’s fast scheme last year, as Foles went from backup quarterback to SI cover boy in the span of a few months and the Eagles went from worst (4-12 and last in the NFC East) to first (10-6 and a division title) under Kelly. It’s clear Miami is hoping that Ryan Tannehill and the rest of the Dolphins offense can respond the same way in 2014.
2. They are all-in at wide receiver.
The Dolphins have really gone above and beyond when it comes to giving Ryan Tannehill enough options. With the cap hit for Mike Wallace ballooning to $17.25 million this year, the Dolphins are spending a whopping $29.6 million on their 2014 wide receivers’by far the most in the league, according to a June study by CBS Sports. Wallace, Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews and Brandon Gibson are joined by rookie Jarvis Landry to form a relatively deep group of wide receivers, one that will serve as a nice challenge for a revamped New England secondary at the start of the season. (Some believe Lazor will try and use Wallace in much the same manner the Eagles did with DeSean Jackson, which is an intriguing concept.)
3. The interior of their offensive line is vulnerable.
The Dolphins have struggled with their offensive line dating back to last year — from a pure football perspective, the Incognito-Martin imbroglio simply shone a light on things. Miami allowed a league-high 58 sacks of Tannehill last season, 10 more than the second-place finish (Baltimore’s Joe Flacco was sacked 48 times) and tied for 10th most all-time in a single season. (For some perspective, Houston’s David Carr was sacked an astounding 76 times in 2002, the all-time mark.) Here’s a highlight reel of all 58 sacks, a sequence that lasts almost 10 minutes.
In all, Tannehill has been sacked 93 times in his first two years in the league. (We haven’t even mentioned the fact that the Miami running game was 26th in the league last season — a sizable portion of the blame for those numbers can also be attributed to the offensive line.) And so it was no surprise the Dolphins made offensive line a priority this offseason. They stabilized their left tackle spot with the addition of Branden Albert, while they used their first round pick on Ja’Wuan James, who appears to be the Week 1 right tackle for Miami. But things are still very rough along the interior, as center Mike Pouncey continues to work his way back from offseason hip surgery (Samson Satele will get the start in his place), while guard play has been questionable at best over the course of the summer. Bottom line? If you want to attack this offense, your best bet appears to be up the gut.
4. Their pass rush will test the New England offensive line early.
Left defensive end Cameron Wake (8.5 sacks last year) and right defensive end Olivier Vernon (11.5 sacks last year) combine to form a very nice set of bookends, and are likely the top priority when it comes to pass protection for the Patriots. (Per Football Outsiders, Wake notched at least 20 hurries and 20 quarterback knockdowns for the fourth year in a row.) While the Dolphins are very good off the edge, it would ostensibly be a strength-on-strength matchup against right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and left tackle Nate Solder. Miami could have an edge if it finds a way to get pressure up the middle, as the interior of New England’s offensive line has some personnel questions, particularly if Marcus Cannon is utilized more as a backup swing tackle than one of the two available guard spots. But many of the questions people have had about the overall fitness of the Patriots offensive line will be answered against a pretty good front seven in the opener.
5. They are ready for Rob Gronkowski … if the big tight end does play.
The Dolphins hardly sounded shocked at the proclamation from Gronkowski that he was good to go for Week 1. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle was asked about Gronkowski’s statement that he was going to play, and he responded with a simple, ‘We assumed that he might.’ In Gronkowski’s career, the Patriots are 6-0 against Miami when he’s in the lineup, but for what it’s worth, the Dolphins have actually done a pretty fair job at containing Gronkowski over the years: In six career games against Miami, he’s averaged four catches, 56 yards and 0.5 touchdowns per game, some of his lowest per game averages against a regular opponent. (In his last two games against Miami, Gronkowski had only only four catches.) It remains to be seen if Gronkowski actually plays, and if he does, how many snaps he’ll take. (His overall football fitness remains in question, and Bill Belichick has said on numerous occasions that you just can run around a track a few times and be ready to play.) But history tells us that the Dolphins have found a way to not stop him completely, but at least slow him down to a point where he not the runaway offensive force he’s been against most teams when he’s been healthy. “He’s an excellent player,” Philbin said Monday when asked about Gronkowski. “He’s been a very, very productive player throughout his career. We’ll have a good plan in place, but he’s certainly an important part of their offense, and a productive part of it. We’ll be ready for him, for sure.”
|Sebastian Vollmer, Sealver Siliga among those back at practice for Patriots Monday||08.25.14 at 2:15 pm ET|
FOXBORO — The Patriots were in full pads for their Monday afternoon practice session and saw a handful of players return to the field, including defensive lineman Sealver Siliga, offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer and linebacker Cameron Gordon.
The following players were not spotted at the start of practice: defensive lineman Chris Jones, defensive tackle Ben Bass, running back Tyler Gaffney and offensive lineman Chris Martin.
The Patriots continue preparation for the final preseason game of the year, set for Thursday against the Giants at MetLife Stadium.
For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.
|Setting the scene: Patriots host Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers in dress rehearsal||08.22.14 at 5:10 pm ET|
FOXBORO — As was the case last week, the Patriots will be playing a summer preseason game in very fall-like conditions as temperatures are expected to be in the low 70s with partly cloudy skies for the 7:30 p.m. kickoff against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
There is no precipitation in the forecast, with a breeze expected out of the east at 10 MPH.
This is the game where Tom Brady, along with the rest of the Patriots starters, are expected to play at least the first half, barring any injury. Brady said this week he is looking forward to the picking up the tempo under all game conditions that are presented.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo, after missing last week for an unspecified reason, practiced this week and could get his first taste of preseason action.
Rob Gronkowski also took a step forward this week, joining in on 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 contact drills but is not expected to play. It would not be surprising to see the tight end skip the entire preseason and attempt to make his debut on opening day in Miami on Sept. 7, as he said this week was his intention.
Gronkowski and Mayo were among several Patriots taking part in pregame sideline-to-sideline sprints at 5 p.m. with trainer Jim Whelan and strength and conditioning coach Moses Cabrera, two and a half hours before kickoff. Also in the group of wind sprinters were Sebastian Vollmer and Dont’a Hightower. That is usually an indication that they won’t be dressing and playing.
The Vollmer sighting is significant, as he missed all three full practices this week and is likely to sit out the third game.
There’s something else to consider. When Brady comes out of the game, either Jimmy Garoppolo or Ryan Mallett will enter the game. If it’s Mallett, there are several teams with scouts on hand to watch.
Nine teams have scouts at the game, including Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Kansas City, Miami, Minnesota, the Giants, Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay.
Mallett played the entire second half against the Eagles and had impressive moments. Garoppolo played in the first half after Brady came out after two series.