The 2016 New England Patriots offensive line was outstanding and offered a lot of hope for the future. Left guard Joe Thuney was a rookie and center David Andrews and Shaq Mason were in their second seasons; their upside was incredible, obvious, and immediate, while right tackle Marcus Cannon was named Second Team All Pro.
All of the pieces returned in 2017, with left tackle Nate Solder rounding out the group, and everyone expected the unit to pick up where they had left off in 2016, as one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. In fact, some like myself might have expected more from the line, as I had hoped the interior trio would continue to develop.
Well, the offensive line started the season out poorly as one of the worst in the league. Solder and Cannon were struggling on the edge and while Andrews and Mason were still playing at a high level, Thuney never took that step forward I had expected.
In the first four weeks of the season, noting that LaAdrian Waddle started in place of Cannon in week three against the Houston Texans, the Patriots offensive line allowed 13 sacks and 15 quarterback hits on Tom Brady according to the official game book, which usually undersells the real number of times the quarterback is hit.
In week five, a short week of preparation for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday Night Football, the Patriots line allowed a previous weak Bucs pass rush to sack Brady three times and hit him additional three more.
Brady had been sacked just 15 times in his 12 games in 2016, so to see Brady exceed that mark in just five games in 2017 was a shock and a letdown. Part of the blame rested at the feet of an inconsistent rushing attack and more was the result of the Patriots shift to a deep ball offense.
But there’s no question that the line simply wasn’t producing over the first five weeks of the year.
The Patriots must have done something with their extra time following the Buccaneers game because the offensive line has been an entirely different unit over the past four games, giving up 6 sacks and 8 hits; in other words, Brady’s been affected half as much over the past four weeks as he was in the first four weeks of the season.
Thuney has improved and is no longer giving up any pressure and it’s possible he’s taking the same step that Shaq Mason took in 2016. Solder is playing better, too, and while Cannon missed Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos, Waddle filled in and was excellent against Von Miller.
The biggest reason for the Patriots postseason failures has been poor offensive line play, whether it was against the New York Giants in 2007 or 2011, or against the Broncos in 2013 or 2015. New England’s offense will go as far as the offensive line can carry them- and if the past four weeks are any indication, they’re back to playing like their 2016 version, which was enough to win the Super Bowl.
I’m sure the Patriots would be happy with that outcome.