Upon a second review, the New England Patriots offensive line did a lot better than I expected- or should I say that the left side of the line did an exceptional job.
Left tackle Cameron Fleming, left guard Joe Thuney, and center David Andrews were outstanding. Right guards Ted Karras and Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon left a lot to be desired.
Fleming allowed a single hurry on the day, according to NESN’s Doug Kyed, while Thuney (strip sack) and Andrews (quarterback hit, tripping penalty) played well outside of their rare blemishes. Fleming deserves plenty of credit for holding down the left tackle position after serving as a right tackle in college and not knowing if he’d start this week.
“We weren't sure of Nate [Solder]'s situation going into the game,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in Monday’s press conference. “He practiced last week and so rather than switching everybody around, moving Marcus [Cannon] over to the left and making two moves instead of one, we weren't even sure who would have to make the one [move] depending on if Nate would've been able to turn the corner then that wouldn't have even necessitated that. I thought Cam did a credible job over there, again, blocking a couple of good pass rushers but he hung in there and gave us some plays in the running game and hung in there on pass protection, so I thought he did a pretty solid job.”
Fleming will likely move back to the 3rd tackle position, although it’s possible he could step into the starting right tackle spot if Marcus Cannon’s leg injury is serious. Cannon allowed 1.5 sacks, 2 hurries, and was called for a holding penalty, so there was plenty of room to improve on the right side.
Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia has to be happy with the improvements on the line; this group is already far ahead of last season’s struggles and they will continue to improve with Nate Solder and Shaq Mason returning to full time spots in the near future.
Mason was a back-up guard as he played just 14 snaps. Rookie Ted Karras was the starter with 57 snaps and he had his struggles. Karras allowed two pressures and was flagged for a holding call, so his performance alongside Cannon’s left a lot to be desired.
Karras will improve as he gains experience, while Mason should help the line a serious way when his hand is healed. The continued growth of the line is a crucial job for Scarnecchia and Belichick thinks the unit if off to a good start.
“[Scarnecchia] does a tremendous job with the individual techniques of the players and also in terms of making them aware of their assignments and adjustments and scheme things that come up, too,” Belichick said during Monday’s press conference. “Those two components are just huge for the offensive line, not only individually but so that all five guys understand the same thing at the same time because that's really what makes an offensive line a good line, is that they can all work together and do it cohesively. He does a great job of all of those things.
“They [Arizona] have a good defensive line. They gave us some problems. We blocked them a lot but not always. They were able to have a couple of disruptive plays in there and they're a very talented group so, you know, we hung in there, we competed with them and we had some good ones and some not so good ones, but we hung in there and kept slugging it out.”
The Patriots offensive line still has a long way to go, but they’ve started the season off on the right foot. The return of Solder will help the line, while the surprising performance from Fleming could strengthen the depth at offensive tackle.
Cannon’s potential injury is worth monitoring as a Solder, Thuney, Andrews, Mason, Fleming line could be around the corner.