FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots brought back all five starting offensive linemen this year from the unit that helped them win Super Bowl LI. Yet for whatever reason, the O-line has not played at a championship level through this season’s halfway mark.
“We’re maybe not pass-blocking as well as we did last year when you think that we should be,” longtime Patriots offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia said Wednesday. “And I think I have to do a better job of coaching them and getting more out of them because we should protect our quarterback better than what we have been doing.”
Quarterback Tom Brady was clobbered with alarming regularity early in the season, absorbing 16 sacks and 33 QB hits over the Patriots’ first five games and suffering a sprained AC joint. The protection has stabilized a bit in recent weeks, limiting opponents to five sacks and 10 QB hits over the past three games.
“I think we’re trending in that direction over the last two weeks,” Scarnecchia said. “We’ve seen some good rushers out there, and guys have done a much better job. Tommy seems to be a little bit more upright than he was in the first six games, so hopefully we are trending in that direction where we can really throw up a wall in front of this guy and help him.”
The Patriots also struggled mightily in short-yardage situations early in the year, routinely being stopped on third- and fourth-and-1. That, too, has improved as the season has progressed.
“It has gotten better, and it needs to continue,” Scarnecchia said. “We were terrible the first two games. Got better since then. But that’s an area that’s situational football and we need to be really good at.”
So why the dip in O-line effectiveness? Shouldn’t the unit be taking a step forward, not backward, in its second full season together?
Part of it surely has to do with Julian Edelman’s absence. With Brady’s reliable safety blanket out for the year with a torn ACL, the QB is forced to hold the ball longer, putting extra pressure on his blockers. Left tackle Nate Solder also has struggled far more than usual, ranking 56th among all NFL tackles in Pro Football Focus’ positional grading system.
“It’s usually the result of techniques,” Scarnecchia explained. “We just have to do better at what we’re doing and understand what certain things mean as far as — if a guy’s going to blitz on the outside, well, that means the guy you’re going to block is going to go inside. You can’t let those things happen where we’re not responding the way they should.
“But it’s not for a lack of effort. We’re trying to do it right. They’re trying to do it right. We’ve just got to get it done better than what we’re doing. Look, we’re eight games into this deal, and no one’s satisfied. They’re not. I’m not. Certainly, the head coach (Bill Belichick) isn’t. So we’re going to continue to work at it. We’re going to work at it today. We work at it every day. We’ve just got to do better.”
The line does appear to be on the upswing. New England limited Los Angeles Chargers star pass rushers Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa to one total sack and two QB hits Sunday despite backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle playing much of the game in place of the injured Marcus Cannon.
Thumbnail photo via Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Images