Putting the offensive line struggles into perspective
Tom Brady is an old man now and can't be taking the amount of huge shots he has five weeks into the season. Every fan should cringe when a massive lineman crushes his old joints. It was reported yesterday that he has a sprained non-throwing shoulder which won't keep him out of any games but these hits add up quickly. The man is only so pliable and can only drink so many glasses of water in 24 hours.
The offensive line was suppose to be a position of strength with the Patriots bringing back the entire group from last year who played very well. This season, its been Swiss cheese at best and the lineman seem to be wanting Brady's back to break in half. Brady has been pressured the fourth most out of any quarterback in the NFL. That is not a winning formula. Brady clearly started feeling the pressure with a sore shoulder against the Bucs and wasn't as effective as earlier in the season.
Tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon were the strengths of the o-line last season but have regressed a significant amount. Cannon has already allowed more sacks than he did all of last season and Solder's Pro Football Focus rating is the lowest of his career. Cannon struggled with injuries early on this season so hopefully he will find his stride as he gets healthier and more snaps under his belt. Solder was absent at practice today so there is clearly something going on with the left tackle to hinder his normally solid play.
Nate Solder on his performance this season: "I haven't had a lot of great plays, and I've had some bad plays."
All of these issues up front go back to the Julian Edelman injury. When people were freaking out after he tore his ACL, they had every right to be frightened because his absence is affecting the whole offense. It's not that Brady is without weapons, so the offense has been clicking at times but the types of weapons he is throwing to. Doug Kyed of NESN calculated that Brady is holding onto the ball 2 tenths of a second longer this season to account for his weapons being more deep threats. Edelman was one of the best in the league at separating quickly from defensive backs and presenting a target for Brady which effectively eliminated the pass rush. Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and James White are those quick hitter targets but they aren't as effective as Edelman was.
Essentially, the offensive line has regressed in the first five weeks and Brady is waiting longer to hit his athletic targets. The offense has been explosive at times but needs to adjust to Brady holding the ball longer so he doesn't die on the field by week 10.
The Patriots run blocking has actually been excellent this season according to PFF. Their pass blocking is 26th in the league but their total ranking including run blocking is 11th.
Ranking the NFL's offensive lines by average PFF grade
That's very respectable and should be something Josh McDaniels focuses on for future game planning. Mike Gilislee and Dion Lewis ran well against Tampa Bay, accumulating over 100 yards between them. For the long term success of the team and the preservation of Brady's health, the offense needs to rely more on the running game. If they can get these guys going and put pressure on defenses stopping the run it will make the pass rush slow down and make the play action game deadly.
The defense needs to continue its upward trend though because Brady has been throwing a ton in recent weeks because of the deficits his defense has handed him. If the defense can tighten up and play up to its potential with a reinvigorated running attack, the Patriots still have the talent and quarterback to make a run at another Super Bowl. Throwing 50 times a game, letting Brady get sacked five times and hit ten others is going to spell injury and an early playoff exit.
Ultimately, the offensive line needs to sack up and make the plays they need to so Brady can have time to throw when necessary but also continuing their run blocking success. Poor offensive line play has doomed the New York Giants, plagued an at times struggling Seattle Seahawks team and can bury the Patriots as well. They have the talent with those five guys they just need to play up to their potential. The season depends on them and more importantly Brady's body depends on them!
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