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Pro Football Focus loves the run blocking by the Patriots offensive line

Is the Patriots run blocking really that good?

I’ll be the first to admit that I love when the New England Patriots show up at the top of rankings, but after the 2015 performance by the offensive line, I don’t know if I’m ready to see the unit so highly regarded. It would be like someone ranking the 2012 Patriots secondary in the top three after the horrendous 2011 season, or suddenly calling the Patriots pass rush a top three unit.

I need some time to mentally adjust back to the concept of New England having a strong offensive line, you know?

Pro Football Focus (PFF) isn’t the only outlet lauding the Patriots offensive line’s run blocking (Football Outsiders ranked them 9th), but third place seems too high with strong interiors like the Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, and, yes, the Chicago Bears.

PFF ranked the Patriots offensive line as the 10th best in the NFL last year and they named RT Marcus Cannon as the team’s top run blocker. RG Shaq Mason has always been a strong run blocker, too, and LT Nate Solder is just a very solid all-around tackle.

But C David Andrews and LG Joe Thuney seemed to struggle to win consistently against bigger defensive tackles in the trenches and RB LeGarrette Blount was one of the least effective running backs in the league on runs up the gut.

Now Andrews did take a big step forward as a sophomore and Thuney should follow suit in his sophomore season, but I feel like it’s hard to have a top three run blocking unit if there are two question marks.

But maybe it’s a case of chicken-or-the-egg. Maybe Thuney and Andrews were better than I perceived and that it was Blount’s inability to take advantage of their blocking that led to the relative inefficiency of the run game. Or maybe Blount wasn’t able to get going because Thuney and Andrews weren’t able to create the holes.

I don’t know if I agree with the third-place ranking in 2016. But I do know that I wouldn’t be surprised if the unit makes a major statement for a repeat top-three performance in 2017.

I expect Thuney to make the same sophomore jump that Andrews and Mason made in 2016, and I expect both Andrews and Mason to continue to develop under offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia. I think that Solder and Cannon will continue to perform like a top five offensive tackle tandem, and that would mean the Patriots would have one of the best offensive lines in the league.

Add in Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead in the backfield, the extra year of recovery and conditioning by Dion Lewis, and James White’s apparent emergence as the new Kevin Faulk, and there’s no reason why this run game shouldn’t be as dominant as this third-place ranking suggests.

Also, I went this whole article without highlighting the Jets and the Dolphins coming in at the bottom of the league in Pro Football Focus rankings. We’ll see if they can repeat their rankings, too.