The New England Patriots are injured everyone on offense, other than their offensive line. So why is their line play the weakest unit on offense?
It's partially the youth, as rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson continue to see heavy snaps. It's definitely the lack of consistency, as center Bryan Stork just returned to the line-up. And it's absolutely injuries, as tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon have missed time in the middle of the season.
But is there a solution on the horizon? Will the line all of a sudden start to click? According to head coach Bill Belichick, that's up to the players.
"I think there are a number of things in play here," Belichick said when asked about finding an offensive line combination. "First of all, for the majority of the year we've dealt with some kind of... We haven't had everybody available for one reason or another. You know what the deal is on all those, so some of what we've done has been a little bit by necessity.
"Earlier in the year when we had three healthy tackles in Marcus [Cannon], Sebastian [Vollmer] and Nate [Solder], that was really kind of a luxury there to have three players of that quality, but we ended up with none of those guys playing at one point.
"The center position has been somewhat in transition, same thing with the guards, so we really haven't had an opportunity to do that, to just have the same people in there, because guys just haven't always been available. If that could happen and it could all come together and everybody was available, maybe we'd be able to get to that point and it would probably be a good thing, but we'll just have to see how all that goes. I'm not against it, that's for sure."
So it would seem that Belichick is pointing to the injuries and missed time in the middle of the season for some of the unit's issues, but that's not the only problem. He needs some players to step up to the plate and fight to stay on the field.
"Honestly I don't feel like a lot of that is in my control," Belichick replied when asked about letting players work through the rust. "It's up to the players how they play. We try to coach them and give them an opportunity and then what they do with that opportunity is really up to them. I can't control that.
"I think once a player is established at any positon - this isn't just a line discussion - at any position once a player has established that he's the best player of that group then he's going to play. If that's not the case then maybe more than one guy deserves to play until it somehow or other works itself out or becomes clear what the roles should be."
Belichick seems to imply that those players that are always on the field- whether that's Vollmer, Cannon, or Stork- they're there because they've surpassed all challengers. Guard Josh Kline would fall into that category as well since he's been leading the offensive line in snaps this season.
Really, it seems like Belichick is pleading for either of the rookie guards, Mason or Jackson, to really step up and win one of the guard spots, and then Kline will play the other side. Mason struggles mightily in pass protection, while Jackson seems to have trouble in the running game. As soon as either player steps up, the line will not only improve, that player will be deemed a starter.
Until that happens, the Patriots will continue to rotate.