The Patriots have an issue at right guard. They miss Stephen Neal, who retired in 2010. They miss Brian Waters, their fantastic 2011 stop gap. Dan Connolly filled the role the past two seasons. This year, we're seeing how a dearth of interior line talent affects the offense.
New England has an issue- but the root is more simple than you might think.
Tom Brady, like most quarterbacks, struggles in the face of interior pressure. When the pass rushers come around the outside of the tackles, it's easy enough for Brady to "climb the ladder" in the pocket, or "step up", and make the throw. When the pressure comes from the inside, though, he has no place to go.
According to NFL right guard Geoff Schwartz on Twitter, teams undervalue the right guard role.
"[You] must have a great pass blocking RG so the QB can step up to allow Ts to ride DEs around the edge," Schwartz said. "Most QBs are right handed and slowly drift right without knowing it. Most schemes slide left 75% of the time to protect the blind side. The RG and RT [are] most often on an island."
And therein lies the issue- the concept that the blind side is more important that the front side. It's not true, by the way. But the team's age-old reliance on blind side protection is likely the cause for why the Patriots just can't seem to find a quality right guard- and why Dan Connolly has been under a spotlight the past few years.
It's why Donald Thomas was so seamlessly able to replace Logan Mankins in 2012.
It's why Josh Kline looked just good enough at left guard in a spot start last season, but left plenty to be desired at right guard last week.
It's why Jordan Devey deserved to be benched in the first quarter of the season after starting at right guard, but outside of his penalty that called back Rob Gronkowski's touchdown on Sunday, did you even really notice him at left guard during the game?
The left guard position is the glory guard role. "LG is super important in the run game," Schwartz said. "[They] pull most often on the backside of zone runs." They get to take the credit for springing big runs. But it's the right guards that take the heat.
"The reality is, most left guards should grade out higher than right guards," Former Patriots guard Ross Tucker wrote for Sports Illustrated. "Most teams are 'right-handed,' meaning they often put the strength of the offensive formation to the right side rather than the left. As a result, most slide protections—a zone scheme in which three linemen block two defenders—go to the left, which is customarily the quarterback’s blindside. This means the right guard on most teams has a tougher job because he’s tasked with more one-on-one pass blocking assignments than the left guard."
The Patriots seemingly have a solution at the position when the roster is healthy; Ryan Wendell looks to be a viable starter. But with both Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly battling concussions, it seems likely that the Patriots will be moving forward with Kline and Devey at the guard positions.
Devey struggled at right guard. Keep that in mind when watching how both guards perform against the Jets.
It might not be as simple as Connolly or Devey or Kline not having enough talent to succeed. It could just be how the role is drawn for the Patriots. At any rate, it shows the importance the Patriots should hold for the right guard role on an island as they plan for the future and build through the draft.
The Patriots have struggled at right guard over the past few seasons. Maybe it's time for the front office to reevaluate how the position is utilized or developed.