With the Patriots preparing for their home game against the Houston Texans, one Houston reporter asked Bill Belichick a question was on offensive line play and how it’s gotten worse of late. Here’s how Belichick answered:
Offensive line is the most fundamental position in the offense. If you can’t block, you can’t do anything in both the run and pass game. At the end of the day, the things that ultimately matter are fundamentals and conditioning, two things the Patriots consistently harp on. Teams usually don’t overcome bad OL play and we’ve seen some very talented OL prospects bust in the NFL because there isn’t enough time for them to practice blocking techniques and they’re thrown right into the fire. Part of that issue comes with the CBA negotiations and how that’s affected the number of padded practices.
In the current CBA, the number of padded practices was severely restricted relative to the last one. Those negotiations were between NFL veterans and NFL owners with zero input from coaches across the league. However, the end result has resulted in poorer OL play and that’s created a domino effect in free agency and other methods of team building. It makes coaching and developing a solid offensive line more difficult overall. Belichick makes a golf analogy to illustrate his point.
It puts a lot of stress on an offensive line coach to be able to develop players, although in the Patriots case they’re in good hands with Dante Scarnecchia and his attention to detail. Without pads, offensive lineman can’t really develop the proper blocking techniques they need to execute on offense and that leads to bad plays in the game. The Patriots have been able to develop a solid offensive line with the current starting five they have out there. That unit will have their hands full against the Texans, who offer a trio of game-changers in their Front 7 in Jadeveon Clowney, J.J. Watt, and Whitney Mercilus.
In the Patriots Week 3 game, they’ll be playing a Texans offensive without Duane Brown, who is continuing his holdout. After a poor Week 1 performance that resulted in Tom Savage and Deshaun Watson getting sacked 10 times, the group rebounded for a 168-yard rushing attack against a Bengals team that looked like they stopped caring this year. The Patriots will try to take away the running game and force a rookie QB to beat them in the air from the pocket in that matchup. While the philosophy is always to blitz bad offensive lines to create five or more 1-on-1 matchups, Watson’s ability to extend plays in and out of the pocket makes me nervous about potentially taking players out of coverage.