The New England Patriots offensive line has deservedly been the center of focus all year. The return of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia was one of the biggest storylines, while the rebirth of tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon and the development of interior linemen David Andrews, Shaq Mason, and Joe Thuney have been key to the offensive success.
Before the season, Pro Football Focus projected the Patriots to have the 18th best offensive line in the NFL. Now that the regular season is over, PFF has looked back to rank the top offensive lines- and the Patriots have made the top 10!
The Patriots come in at #10, with LT Nate Solder considered the team’s best lineman and the 8th highest ranked tackle in the NFL. Solder was the team’s best pass blocker, while RT Marcus Cannon was the best run blocker.
“It’s impossible to overstate the effect the return of longtime O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia has had on this unit, which was a major problem for the team a year ago,” PFF analyst Sam Monson writes. “RT Marcus Cannon has gone from a liability to a second-team All-Pro, and RG Shaquille Mason has undergone a similar transformation when it comes to pass protection. Nate Solder returned to his best play after two lackluster seasons, and only the struggles of rookie Joe Thuney as a pass blocker held this line back. Thuney allowed 45 total QB pressures and was flagged 10 times over the season.”
RG Shaq Mason has developed into one of the better guards in the league, while C David Andrews has been a steady presence in the middle of the line. Rookie LG Joe Thuney has been the weak link, with the 3rd most penalties of any interior lineman in the NFL.
Thuney actually replaced 2015 starting guard Josh Kline, who is now starting for the Tennessee Titans and PFF’s #1 ranked offensive line. If the Patriots had retained Kline, perhaps the offensive line would have been a top 5 unit this year.
If Thuney is able to make the same sophomore jump in 2017 that Mason was able to make this year, then the Patriots are going to be in great shape. Remember that Mason was one of the worst linemen in football last year; a full season in an NFL training program can do wonders for a player and Thuney has the frame and mental ability to not just succeed, but dominate in the NFL.
But until then, the Patriots will have to be happy with a top 10 offensive line protecting QB Tom Brady and guiding RB LeGarrette Blount into the playoffs and beyond.