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The Patriots Incredible, Improving Offensive Line

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The Patriots struggled mightily for the first quarter of the season. They have since turned a corner and a lot of credit is due to the offensive line.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Let's start off with a simple graph:

Pass Blocking Grade

This is a pass blocking grade chart. I've used Pro Football Focus' tallies of sacks, hits, and hurries and modified their "Pass Blocking Efficiency" value to reflect the influence on the quarterback (instead of valuing a hurry as 0.75 of a sack, I count it as 0.25).

There are some pretty clear bench marks. The offensive line was terrible against the Dolphins (1), Raiders (3), and Chiefs (4). The team struggled against the Jets (7) and the offensive line did just enough to allow the offense to operate efficiently against the Broncos (9).

90% should be the goal- the equivalent of being sacked twice and hurried eight times after dropping back 40 times. Anything below and it allows the opposing defense to play too large of an impact on the offense.

Look at the trend line and how the unit has been climbing to the realm of reliability.

Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have been the constants at tackle, regardless of how the coaching staff rotated in Marcus Cannon. Dan Connolly has earned his captain title by playing both guard and center during the early stretch, only missing time due to a concussion.

The biggest change between the first quarter of the season, where the Patriots ranked second to last in the league in protecting their quarterback, and the subsequent five games comes from Ryan Wendell and Bryan Stork.

The Patriots are currently fielding their past three centers (Connolly, class of '11; Wendell, class of '12-'13; Stork, class of '14) along the three interior positions. Wendell became a starter in Week 5. That is a move that cannot be understated.

Two years after Wendell showed so much promise as a tough, run blocking center, and one year after everyone couldn't wait for Wendell to sign somewhere else, it seems as if the undrafted lineman has found his place on the team. He's the right guard, the natural heir to Stephen Neal, a tough fighter willing to grind his nose into the opposing defense.

For all the credit that tight end Rob Gronkowski has been receiving for the Patriots' offensive renaissance, the emergence of Wendell most aligns with the team's success. The 2013 whipping boy is now the 2014 superhero. This transformation is possibly the most important of the year.

Another key member who has overcome great criticism is another heir of sorts; offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo was given the unenviable task of replacing an all-time great in Dante Scarnecchia. He was also given a team without its captain left guard and a new rookie center.

"Guge" was given the keys to a Pinto and asked to race in the Indy 500.

And race he did. A coach known for his rushing attacks, Guge brought a new level of bite to the Patriots play action attack as the formerly ranked 31st pass protection unit has ranked 6th best over the past five weeks. The offense, even without Stevan Ridley, still forces opposing defenses to account for the rushing attack, and that's an element that's crucial for the team's success.

The offensive line seemed to find its way five weeks ago and they've been great ever since. Just remember that this offensive line of Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell, and Vollmer have only played together three times this season (weeks 5, 8, and 9). This unit is playing well. They're only going to get better.