The New England Patriots’ offense has had an up-and-down 2018 regular season: the unit looked near unstoppable at times but then blundered its way through games against the Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans, and Pittsburgh Steelers. As inconsistent as the performance of coordinator Josh McDaniels’ unit was as a whole, one of its position groups stood out for all the right reasons more often than not: the offensive line.
After having to replace long-time left tackle Nate Solder over the offseason, the group quickly grew together and became one of the NFL’s elite in both pass protection and run blocking. As a result, it is no surprise to see them ranked near the top in the final offensive line power rankings published by advanced analytics website Pro Football Focus.
Two teams from the AFC North sit atop they list in the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns, but both will not be represented in the playoffs. The highest-ranked line still in the race for the Lombardi Trophy comes in at number three: the Indianapolis Colts’ coached by former Patriots O-line coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Meanwhile, the unit led by his predecessor and successor in New England — Dante Scarnecchia — comes in at number four.
Pro Football Focus writer Michael Renner has to say the following about the Patriots’ blockers up front:
Another year, another well-oiled machine blocking in New England. Shaq Mason finished the season as PFF’s All-Pro right guard and all five starters were among the top-75 graded offensive linemen in the league.
One key ingredient for the Patriots this season has been cohesion at the starting level. The five starters played alongside each other in 12 of the 16 regular season contests, with three players — left tackle Trent Brown, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews — all playing more than 97% of New England’s offensive snaps. Right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon both missed two contests due to injury, but were available and healthy down the stretch.
As a result of having all five starters available for the majority of the regular season, the unit produced some very good performances especially in pass protection: offensive linemen — the five starters plus depth players Ted Karras and LaAdrian Waddle — were responsible for just 14 of the 21 sacks surrendered by the Patriots (according to numbers compiled by The Athletic’s Jeff Howe). New England’s adjusted sack rate of 3.8% ranks best in the NFL.
Furthermore, the group paved the way on the third most rushing attempts in the league this year. And while the results were not quite as impressive in the ground game, the blocking up front was still very good albeit a bit inconsistent at times — think short yardage situations — and a big reason for Sony Michel’s outstanding rookie campaign as well as New England gaining a combined 2,037 yards and 18 touchdowns on the ground.
While Pro Football Focus’ rankings are certainly not the be-all and end-all of analysis, they still reflect how well the Patriots have done up front. And now, they enter the postseason with one of the league’s best offensive lines in their fold.