New England Patriots RG Shaq Mason has a tough job. As a right guard, he’s expected to be a force in the run game, as well as hold up against interior pass rushers that get more athletic every year. Pats Pulpit’s leader Rich Hill detailed how the right guard position is undervalued back in 2014, and it remains true today.
The 24-year-old guard out of Georgia Tech has started 33 of the 38 games in his two-and-a-half regular seasons so far. Historically, being an offensive lineman drafted out of Georgia Tech means one thing: you sure as hell know how to run block. This idea has been held up by Mason, as his transfer from Georgia Tech’s option offense to New England’s complex Erhardt-Perkins offense hasn’t had an impact on his skills in the run game.
Regardless of his dominance in the run-game, early worries about Mason revolved around his performance against the pass rush. Coming out of Georgia Tech, NFL scouts questioned whether the guard would be able to block interior pass rushers due to his “short arms.”
During Mason’s rookie season, these concerns were valid, as Mason finished with a 43.8 overall grade from Pro Football Focus. Yet, after being moved from left guard to right guard prior to the 2015 postseason, he’s been far better, even Pro Bowl nod worthy. Mason finished his second season as PFF’s fifth most improved second-year player, recording a 84.0 grade. And as if he couldn’t have gotten any better, Mason has made it halfway through the 2017 season as PFF’s third overall rated OG.
I decided to take a look at Mason’s performance this season, and how he’s turned into one of the most complete guards in the league.
Once again, it was never a question of whether or not Mason would be a force in the run game. It was just never predicted how quickly he would become one of the best run blockers in the league at guard.
The best guards in the league have no issue at getting to the second-level and making an impact. Mason has shown the ability to track down linebackers and pin them away from the hole. He’s caught attention as one of the most athletic guards in the league, coming off of double teams and pulling as a lead blocker often.
In this play against Tampa Bay, New England is running a simple stretch play to the offensive right. Mason plays this perfectly, chipping the one-technique defensive tackle, allowing David Andrews to get his head around the other side. Once Mason realizes Andrews is in place, he gets off the double team and tracks down Kendell Beckwith, and Dion Lewis is able to break off a 31-yard rush.
What Mason does well on the second-level is stay in contact. Once he gets his hands on you, you shouldn’t be making a play.
In this play, the Patriots are facing a six-man box at the time of the snap. New England runs inside zone, with double teams on the defensive tackles.
Lewis is able to find a small seam between Andrews and Joe Thuney, who both show good technique with their butts facing the hole. With the playside linebacker running himself out of place, the only player left to account for is the backside linebacker. Mason gets off the double team in time, gets his hands on the linebacker, and Lewis forces the defender to make the wrong move to spark a 13-yard rush.
Yet, as a right guard, Mason won’t only be asked to get to the second-level. Mason also has to drive 300-pounders off the line of scrimmage.
This play is just to note the pure force of Mason. At the snap of the ball, Mason gives Atlanta DT Grady Jarrett, Super Bowl LI “hero,” a chip block that knocks Jarrett back a whole yard. Even after providing a solid chip on Jarrett, Mason stays on path to the playside linebacker.
Deemed his weakness coming out of a run-happy college, Mason has steadily improved throughout his young career in pass blocking. Through the first half of the season, Mason has allowed only 13 total QB pressures, 24th among guards, and Pro Football Focus has a 97.0 pass blocking efficiency rating for Mason.
While the Patriots offensive line has struggled for a good portion of the season, the issues are different than before. Last season, New England’s offensive tackles, Marcus Cannon and Nate Solder, were the strength of the offensive line. However, the young interior of Mason, Thuney, and Andrews has played much better than the two veteran tackles.
The key to rattling Brady has always been applying pressure with only four rushers. You can’t beat him with the blitz, so teams have to get significant interior pressure to force Brady into sacks. This season, Brady’s footwork has been on display and he ranks first among quarterbacks while facing pressure, with a 101.7 passer rating according to PFF. Simply put, when Brady is comfortable enough to step up in the pocket, despite the offensive tackles’ struggles, he’ll succeed.
This play is an example of just that. On this touchdown throw to Rob Gronkowski, Brady is pressured quickly off the edge as Cannon was beat off the snap. The five-technique slants all the way to the “A-gap” and Mason was successful in washing him and passing him on to Thuney. After recognizing the slant, Mason keeps his eyes up and notices the backside end looping around the end. Mason was then able to lock onto the defender, and Brady was able to deliver the ball and avoid a hit.
The goal of an interior offensive lineman against the pass rush is to stay in front of the defender and be as close to the line of scrimmage as possible. They don’t have to worry about speed off the edge as much, but, instead, they are tasked with buckling down in front of forces of nature.
Against Corey Liuget, Mason does a good job keeping his ground. Liuget makes it difficult for Mason to lock on, using his hands to get separation from Mason. Yet, Mason responds to the hand fighting and resets his base, not allowing Liuget to fight through him.
Plain and simple, Shaq Mason will be a starter in this league for a long time, and likely a multiple time Pro Bowler. In 2017, the best season of his career so far, Mason will only earn just ovcr $725,000. Mason won’t be eligible for a contract extension until after this season, but he should be seeing big money this offseason (Rich broke down some possible extension numbers). The Patriots should do everything they can to extend Mason, as he is a fundamental piece of New England’s young and promising interior offensive line.