Logan Mankins is 32 years old and holds the second highest cap hit on the team. He's still playing well, but not second-best-player-on-the-team good, or second-highest-cap-hit-in-the-league-for-a-guard good.
Dan Connolly will be 32 years old in September and holds the ninth highest cap hit. Dan Connolly was Pro Football Focus's (PFF) 68th ranked guard out of 81 qualifiers. He allowed the fourth most pressures/hits/sacks of all guards in the league.
Ryan Wendell is a young gun at 28, but is coming off a year where he ranked as PFF's lowest graded pass blocking center (actually ranked 35th out of 35 qualifiers). He allowed a position worst 37 total disruptions, including positional worst 6 sacks. This isn't just a case of the Patriots offense having more snaps, either- he was the lowest ranked in blocking efficiency.
All three will be back next season and all three are expected to compete for the starting jobs. Positional consistency is good when the product is good. This product should raise alarms.
Nothing more than when looking at PFF's "Unblocked Pressure" ranks. This pressure can stem from blitzes, although Tom Brady was the 6th least pressured quarterback in the league. The main culprit, in my opinion, comes from missed assignments and poor transitions.
Pro Football Focus ranked the Patriots 8th in the league with regards to unblocked pressure, which is a positive figure when compared to the percentage of plays where Brady is hurried. But when you break down the numbers, it's quite alarming.
The Patriots were ranked 30th in adjusting to these unblocked pressures, where teams converted 57.9% of these rushes into plays where Brady is knocked down. The top teams in the league, like Kansas City (25.0%) and (!) Oakland (26.3%) are over twice as effective as the Patriots.
Some is related to the mobility of the quarterback. Some will clearly come down to the Patriots inexperienced receivers and Brady's inability to get them the ball in a non-risky scenario. A lot has to do with the offensive line.
The Patriots were ranked 31st on unblocked pressures converting to sacks at 23.7%. Brady found himself balled up on the ground on nearly a quarter of these rushes.
Mankins has to improve. Wendell has to improve. Connolly has to improve.
It's hard to expect two 32-year-olds to perform better than the prior season, and it's hard to rely upon the lowest graded player in the league.
To expect this unit to venture into the realm of mediocrity sounds like a disappointment, yet would be a tremendous improvement. I don't believe we can expect it to happen. The list of 32 year old guards who play at an elite level is far smaller than you would imagine.
With two-thirds of the interior playing at a sub-par level, the Patriots offense's greatest weakness (interior pressure) is magnified. We have to hope the Patriots buck their historical trend to address the center or the right guard position before the fifth round, if not for the immediate improvement, then for the sake of Brady's remaining future.