Last Sunday, the Patriots lost 26-20 in overtime against the New York Jets. While the defense gave up the game-losing drive, it was the offense which struggled most that game. The unit scored only 13 points and converted just 1 of 10 3rd down attempts. In short: it was out of sync.
There were various reasons for that but the one most commonly pointed out was the offensive line's constant struggles. Of course, neither did it help that starting left tackle Sebastian Vollmer left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury, nor that starting right guard Josh Kline was inactive. Or that the Jets have one of the most talented defensive lines in football, so it was only natural to lose some battles in the trenches - especially with two rookies starting at the two guard spots.
Still, no matter the circumstances, the line had its fair share of mental errors and technique breakdowns against New York. Something, the Patriots' coaching staff obviously noticed.
In the fourth quarter, with the Patriots driving to tie the game at 20, the offensive line came out without Shaq Mason at left guard. Instead, starting center Bryan Stork took his spot, with David Andrews - the rookie, who started the Patriots' first 10 games of the year - at center. The move, as a look at yesterday's practice participation report shows, was apparently not injury-related.
Mason had struggled all day next to LaAdrian Waddle, who filled in for Vollmer. His pass blocking issues, which were known coming out of Georgia Tech's run-first offense, were on display once again as he particularly had problems on stunts - something the Jets exploited.
With Stork at left guard, the team drove to its lone touchdown of the day, which naturally leads to the question whether or not Stork should make a permanent move to guard. The 25-year old, who was New England's best interior linemen in training camp prior to injury, has experience at guard, having played the position at Florida State before converting to center. At 6'4, he also has the size to make a move, which would probably leave the Patriots with a Stork-Andrews-Kline interior.
Of course, this would lead to more questions. Is Andrews at center an upgrade over Mason at guard? Will the rookie's performances go up again once Vollmer returns, or has he hit the "rookie wall"? Is Josh Kline at right guard a solution to the problems? And: how much of the line's struggles are due to personnel inconsistencies? After all, Sunday was the ninth straight game with a different starting offensive line, while starting receivers/security blankets Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were once again out with injury.
We know one thing for sure, though: New England's coaching staff has to find a way to quickly answer the questions along the offensive line if the team wants to defend its world championship.