Football is a sport of glamor positions, whether it be our very own Male Model of the Year
Derek Zoolander Tom Brady, or the conference clown Chad OchoCinco. People pay attention to how many yards running backs gain, how many touchdowns receivers catch and how many interceptions the defensive backs have. Only real football fans pay close attention to what's going on in the trenches. I've decided to look a little more in depth into our O-Line to find our weaknesses, find what needs to be addressed and how it will be fixed.
Here are some brief stats:
The O-Line is responsible for 14 of the 15 sacks on Tom Brady (Ben Watson is responsible for the other). That ranks them second in the league, behind the Colts
Thanks to the guys are ProFootballFocus, we can see that the Patriots are averaging 5.6 yards/carry while running between Logan Mankins and Dan Koppen, 4.8 yards/carry while running off left tackle with Matt Light and Sebastian Vollmer. Our weakest point is between Koppen and Stephen Neal where the average is only 3.6 yards/carry. That's one visible difference between Mankins and Neal: 2 yards/carry.
Brady has been hit while throwing 9 times, placing him 15th in the league out of starting QBs. That is the O-Line's fault.
Brady has had 5 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, placing him 5th in the league. That is because the O-Line allows too much penetration.
Brady has had 33 passes dropped by his receivers, ranking him second behind Aaron Rodgers and right in front of Matt Cassel. That means Brady might not be getting enough time in the pocket to establish himself and is throwing poor passes. That lies partially upon the O-Line.
Here are the contributing members of our O-Line:
Matt Light (LT) - Playing in 9/15 games thus far, Matt Light allowed 2/15 of the sacks on Brady. He is responsible for facing the best DEs of the opposing team and has yielded the 2nd greatest number of QB pressures with 16 (behind Nick Kaczur). Light is getting long in the tooth, which is why Vollmer's excellent play has been a great bonus. Light has yielded 7 QB hits, tying him for second worst on the team with Dan Koppen and, again, just in front of Nick Kaczur. Light should be making the switch over to Right Tackle next year in order to extend his career. He is still a premier run blocker, but he's simply not able to handle the best rushers. I expect we'll draft another tackle to groom behind him next year.
Logan Mankins (LG) - Responsible for a team high 8 penalties, Mankins is trying to make up for that in other ways. He's a great run blocker and is great in pass protection. If anyone saw the game against the Colts, he did all he could to help Vollmer and keep Brady clean. He's one of the best in the business. Responsible for 2 sacks, 3 QB hits and 12 QB pressures, Mankins has played the greatest number of plays on the entire team. If he can limit his false start penalties, he'll be back to being a perennial pro bowler.
Dan Koppen (C) - One of the shining spots on the O-Line, Koppen, while growing old in years, is responsible for 0 sacks. Yes. Zero. He has 7 QB hits and 9 QB pressures, but he has held off opposing DTs, NTs and LBs and prevented them from getting to Brady before the ball is gone. I expect Connolly to be groomed to take Koppen's spot when his contract expires (Connolly just recently got an extension).
Stephen Neal (RG) - The constantly injured wrestler. Playing in 10/15 games, he's responsible for 2/15 sacks. Connolly has also been playing this spot and been playing it well enough to justify letting Neal go after this season. Neal is the oldest man on the line and he isn't playing well enough to justify bringing him back. We'll probably shift Kaczur over to RG and see how that works out. If not, expect Ohrnberger to push for the position or we'll see Connolly take over the RG role and we'll draft a Center for the future.
Sebastian Vollmer (RT) - He's been the stud of the line. Responsible for 0 sacks on Brady, he's faced the likes of Dwight Freeney and kept them away. Whether he's been Left or Right Tackle, RBs behind him have averaged over 4 yards a carry. He's given up 10 QB pressures, which is to be expected for his position (it places him 15th in the entire LEAGUE, and only 3 behind Pro Bowlers Jake Long and Joe Thomas. He'll probably shift over to LT permanently next season and hold that down for years to come.
Nick Kaczur (RT) - He's done as a tackle. He has team highs in sacks given up (5), QB hits (9) and QB pressures (19). All of those are unacceptable numbers when he's supposed to keep Brady clean. Hopefully he'll be able to do better at the guard position because if not, he's gone.
Dan Connolly (RG/C) - He's one of our players for the future. In week 11, he gave up 2 sacks to the Jets as RG. That's his only blemish. Apart from that, he's been impeccable. In his past 3 weeks as a starter, he gave up 0 sacks, 0 QB hits and 1 QB pressures. That's excellent. As a center, he gave up 0 in all three categories. He's going be a great player with more time next season.
There is also Mark LeVoir, but he plays more of a large FB role.
So what does this all mean?
Light, Koppen, Neal and Kaczur are all getting old.
Mankins, Vollmer and Connolly are waiting in the wings.
We'll be drafting another Tackle in this next draft with one of our 2nd rounders and expect a mid-round (4th or 5th) pick to be either a guard or a center, depending on how we wish to utilize Connolly.
Our O-Line is set for the future. We're already making the transition this year and it's pretty painless.
Next year, with more experience, expect an even better year.