Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.
If a game featured one of these players, it’s bound to be an exciting
one. If a game featured both, it makes for must-see television.
The New England Patriots faced the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium
Sunday and it was suppose to be a close game. But after the second
half, it was over for Peyton Manning’s new team. The Patriots won the
game 31-21, a win that provided even more convincing evidence that the
Patriots are becoming a balanced team.
While trying to achieve balance, one aspect of the offense is
noticeably unbalanced: the offensive line.
Starters for the Patriots offensive line are left tackle Nate Solder,
left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly
and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Two (Mankins, Connolly) have years
of experience while the others are young, up-and-comers.
The Good: Running game is finding its way
Some could argue that the offensive line is more important than the
running back when it comes to the ground attack. The reality is that
they need each other to perform well to be truly be successful.
For the Patriots, running backs Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead have unexpectedly become exactly what the
offense needed. On Sunday, the Patriots rushed for 251 yards on 54
carries and three touchdowns, one of which was an end zone dive by Tom
Brady. In addition to last week’s 247 rushing yards against the Buffalo Bills, this was the first time the Patriots had consecutive games with
200 or more rushing yards since 1978.
One of the biggest surprises of this offensive line is center Ryan
Wendell. Wendell has played a major role in paving the way for the
running backs to make plays right up the middle.
While the running backs deserve some of the credit, the rest of it goes
to the offensive line (and wide receivers and tight ends) for blocking
just long enough for a play to be made.
The question is how long will “just enough” be enough?
The Bad: Lack of protection
It’s safe to say that Tom Brady is the most important part of the
Patriots offense. In just the first few games of the season,
it is evident he’s received quite a beating. After four weeks, Brady
had two batted passes and was pressured 42 times.
On Sunday, Brady was sacked four times for a total loss of 30 yards.
For the season, he’s been on the ground 12 times. While Brady is not
the most sacked quarterback, that title belongs to the Arizona Cardinals’ Kevin Kolb with 22 sacks, it’s still a major area of concern.
The offensive line’s inability to protect Tom Brady is a major issue
because, to the fear of many Patriots fans, if Tom Brady is injured,
second year rookie Ryan Mallett is the only backup, unless you consider
former Kent State quarterback Julian Edelman.
An injured Brady is simply not an option.
The Reality: O-Line must stay healthy
Dan Connolly said it best, "We always try to be balanced. As offensive
linemen, we like to run the ball and you have to run the ball to set up
the passing game...It's working for us."
Balance is the ongoing theme for the Patriots this season and it’s
working unexpectedly well for them so far. The offensive line’s main
priority, other than protecting Brady, is to stay healthy. Nothing
kills momentum faster than an injury and losing someone like Logan
Mankins or Sebastian Vollmer for an extended period of time, puts a lot
of unnecessary pressure on Brady.
Sunday’s win was a team victory and if the Patriots want continued
success for the rest of the season, they must plan, play and execute as
a balanced team.
Kisha Tapangan is contributing writer for Patriots
also manages the blog Necessary Roughness with Kisha.
She can also be found on twitter @KishaT.
Feel free to email her your thoughts here.
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