The New England Patriots are coming off their best game offensive line play in over a quarter of the season. An injury to starting guard Josh Kline forced the Patriots to rely heavily on their rookie guards and no lineman fared better than left guard Shaq Mason.
"I thought Shaq played one of his better games of the year, for sure," Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said on Tuesday. "I think he's continued to try to work hard at the things that maybe he wasn't experienced in relative to coming out of the Georgia Tech program. I think we're past that now."
Mason has certainly grown over the course of the season, and while he definitely still has a long way to go, he managed to hold his own against the quality defensive front of the Texans.
I wanted to highlight one play that shows his natural ability, while also pointing out how the injuries to Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman have really impacted the run game.
The Patriots wanted to run to the right side behind a pulling Mason. The play starts with a motion to pull wide receiver Keshawn Martin closer into the formation.
"Usually when you put a player in motion it's to either gain an advantage somehow on the defense," head coach Bill Belichick said on Tuesday. "Or it's to force the defense to communicate and adjust after they've already made their call and you've come out of the huddle and lined up. I'd say it would fall into one of those two categories."
"There's definitely some things you do to help yourself or create angle or blocking patterns with motion," McDaniels agreed. "The running game - you can certainly try to avoid contact at the line of scrimmage by the use of motion."
Prior to the snap, Tom Brady diagnosed that the Texans had four players (#99, #59, #56, #29) on the right side of the formation and that the Patriots had a matching four (Michael Williams, Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon, the pulling Mason). In order to give the Patriots the numbers advantage, Brady motioned Martin inside to give the Patriots a 5-on-4 advantage.
#99 bent the corner on a pass rush, so Williams countered with a deep drop to move Watt far away from the running lane. Martin peeled to the inside to engage with the safety #29, while Fleming and Cannon tag-teamed #59.
Mason pulled around the formation to pick up the last unengaged player, #56. It should be noted that Mason wasn't pulling across a standard formation- he went around the outside of Fleming, who was aligned as a tight end.
Fleming drives #59 into the dirt, while Mason cleanly dispatches of #56. Unfortunately, Martin isn't as great of a blocker and eats space instead of clearing it. #29 is able to shed Martin to make an arm tackle on Blount and hold up the play as other defenders close in to help with the tackle.
I don't know if Fleming trips and that's what makes it look like a pancake block, but it would make sense for Fleming just to seal block before moving to the second level, and for Mason and Fleming to act as the blocking cavalry against linebackers and defensive backs.
With Josh Kline limited in practice with a shoulder injury, it wouldn't be a surprise for Mason to see extended snaps for another week.
"Shaq's played a lot of football for us this year," McDaniels said. "He's seen a lot of different things and I think a lot of those things are coming back to help him now that he's got some experience and some exposure to different schemes and different ways people play. I thought our communication last week and in particular with he and Sebastian [Vollmer], it was pretty good. Those guys [the Texans] are a good front, they're going to make some plays on you but I thought Shaq handled himself well.
"That was an encouraging sign from Shaq to see him play the whole game and help us run the ball effectively at times and held off a decent rush with different patterns of blitzes and those kind of things. I thought he stepped up for us."
Mason is showing why so many thought he had limitless potential coming out of a rushing-offense in college. If he can string together a second-straight dominant performance, then we might be a step closer to finding the heir to Logan Mankins.