FOXBORO, Mass. — The New England Patriots offensive line has garnered rave reviews for its work in pass protection and run blocking this postseason.
And New England’s hogs also have excelled in another area: the screen game.
Running back James White ripped off gains of 25, 23 and 30 yards on screen passes in playoff wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, with the Patriots’ interior O-line trio of left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason leading the way each time.
“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that all year,” Andrew said. “It’s kind of hard to practice, because they never develop like they do in the game, and it’s always kind of different. So we try to do the best we can, and they can usually be big swings in games.
On the 25-yarder, Thuney walled off Chargers defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, Andrews sprinted into the flat to cut down safety Adrian Phillips and Mason bombed downfield, running stride for stride with Jahleel Addae to keep the safety away from White.
The 23-yard pickup, which came later in New England’s 48-21 divisional-round beatdown of the Chargers, featured a nearly identical blocking scheme, with each O-lineman taking out the same defender (and Mason also serving as a roadblock against defensive tackle Damion Square).
The final big play came late in the first half of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, following two screen passes that were well-constructed but spoiled by incompletions. Mason got just enough of safety Daniel Sorensen to spring White, and Andrews proceeded to bury safety Jordan Lucas, with wide receiver Phillip Dorsett also providing a key block downfield.
Two plays later, Tom Brady found Dorsett in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
The combination of an experienced pass-catching back like White and an unusually athletic offensive line has caused big problems for opposing defenses.
“I think our offensive line is a pretty, overall, pretty athletic group,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said Thursday. “They work hard. They train hard. They all run well. When we do conditioning drills, I would say it’s always good, but it’s always a little bit surprising to me how well they run as a group relative to other groups. They’re not that far behind other players — in some cases skill players that you think of as faster. But actually, those guys, they run pretty well.”
Andrews, who will be one of the men tasked with blocking Los Angeles Rams superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald in Super Bowl LIII, appreciated Belichick’s shoutout.
“We’ve got a pretty athletic room,” the center said. “That’s a pretty good compliment by him. Probably more of Shaq than anybody, but we put a lot of work into our conditioning, really push each other so we can fall back on it when we have to.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images