If you ask Pro Football Focus (PFF), the Patriots pass protection has disintegrated over the past few years. The Patriots pass blocking has fallen from 4th in their 2009 rankings to 10th, 8th, 16th, 19th, 31st, and 31st in each subsequent season. After ranking as a top 3 offensive line from 2009-2012, the Patriots have fallen to 14th, 23rd, and finally 25th this past season.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia is back after his two-year retirement (the two years the Patriots ranked 31st in pass protection) and he has some immediate changes he wants to put in place.
“They had so many guys playing multiple positions [last year], and we believe in continuity and trying to keep the same guys next to each other as much as we can," Scarnecchia said Wednesday, via ESPN’s Mike Reiss. "You can’t always do that, [but] I think that was a huge deal last year and hopefully we won’t get into that situation this year. Keep working with the same guys day in and day out, and hopefully they will improve."
Last year the Patriots used a league-high 39 offensive line combinations and 13 different starting lines, the most by any team in more than two decades. Scarnecchia hopes to inject some consistency into the lineup.
Part of the Patriots offensive rotation was to ease the rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson into the lineup, but that likely just complicated issues for the line and prevented the players from ever getting on the same page.
“We’re going to try to keep the guys- whoever is the first five, we’re going to try to keep those guys together as much as we can," Scarnecchia said.
The Patriots are set at tackle, with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer the probable starters. The interior line will be an all-out competition with new players and heated battles.
Last year’s starting centers David Andrews and Bryan Stork will be battling for playing time. Stork is the more physical specimen, but he was an awful pass blocker in 2015. If Scarnecchia can fix Stork, he’s likely the favorite to win the job, but this is a toss-up in its current state.
New England added two new guards in 3rd round rookie Joe Thuney and former Cardinals top 10 pick Jonathan Cooper, to join last year’s trio of Josh Kline, Shaq Mason, and Tre Jackson. Mason and Jackson, who are on the Physically Unable to Perform list, have to hope Scarnecchia doesn’t determine the “first five” before they return to the field.