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PFF: Patriots offensive line still ranks at the bottom of the NFL

Despite the apparent improvements, the Patriots still have a weak offensive line.

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If you ask anyone, the New England Patriots offensive line is better than it was last year. The quarterbacks have more time in the pocket, the running backs have open running lanes, and it’s all thanks to offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. The day is saved!

“Not so fast,” grumpy ol’ Pro Football Focus (PFF) declares. “The Patriots offensive line is not too different from last season.”

After finishing 2015 as the 25th ranked offensive line in the NFL (and after ranking 23rd in 2014), Pro Football Focus has the Patriots as the 24th best offensive line in 2016.

“The return of long-time line coach Dante Scarnecchia has at least got this unit moving in the right direction, albeit slowly,” PFF writes. “Rookie Joe Thuney has appeared full of potential, especially in the run game, where he has been able to move bodies with excellent power. Nate Solder has been solid at left tackle, allowing just four total pressures in 95 pass-blocking snaps, with injury causing him to miss time.

“The other positions are less impressive, with Marcus Cannon at RT, David Andrews at C, and Shaquille Mason at RG proving to be average, at best.”

My immediate reaction is to think, “Hey, the Patriots have two good offensive linemen? That’s way better than 2015,” but apparently that’s not a big enough difference.

The Patriots have the worst offensive line in the AFC East, although it’s a pretty ugly grouping. The Jets have the best line and they rank 19th. The Bills (20th) and Dolphins (23rd) are nothing to write home about, either.

Although I guess the AFC East is still better than the NFC West, where the 49ers (28th), Rams (31st), and Seahawks (32nd) all rank in the bottom five.

I would expect the Patriots offensive line grades to improve as the season moves forward. Solder, Mason, and Cannon have been dealing with injuries, while Andrews is still in his second season. Thuney will keep growing at his own accelerated pace. I also think the PFF grades are weighted by performances in prior years, which would have a big effect on the grades.

I think Solder and Thuney could be two of the best in the league at their respective positions, while Mason could be an elite run blocker.

The issue with Mason and Andrews is that they’re both undersized at 6’2, 300 pounds (Thuney is 6’5, 305 pounds) and are often overmatched by the the bigger defensive tackles that dominate the league. There’s a reason the Patriots rank 30th in runs behind the center and guards. They need to keep working on their technique so they can neutralize defensive linemen like Bills DTs Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus, Dolphins DT Ndamukong Suh, and the entire Jets DL of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Leonard Williams.

If, by season’s end, the Patriots rank in the middle of the pack, then the New England offense will be in good shape to compete in the playoffs.