Mostly I'm starting this thread to generate some awareness about the superb articles that Ben Muth has going on Football Outsiders. He picks a few teams each year to follow and go into deep depth on OL play. Luckily for us, this year he's chosen the Pats (as well as the 49ers and Chiefs). He's got 2 articles up already - one on the loss to the Cardinals, and one on beatdown of the Bills' nickel defense. Links and some quotes below.
Arizona game: http://www.footballo...ards-wont-budge
The biggest problem by far for New England’s running game was their inability to knock anyone off the ball. It isn’t that they gave up a lot of penetration, because, with the exception of a couple memorable third-down failures, they didn’t. It’s just that they weren’t moving any defenders off their spots.
Mankins certainly didn’t look like the perennial Pro Bowler of years past, but it is likely he's simply still rounding into form as he returns from ACL surgery. Still, his poor drive blocking is still cause for concern.
Back to Thomas. I’m not saying he played well; it’s just that he didn’t play as bad as I thought he did initially. He got a little more movement than Mankins in the running game, but I wouldn’t call him a standout. I did think he held his own in the passing game. He gave up some leakage here and there, but only gave up one hit -- it just happened to lead to a sack.
I will say this about Solder: he certainly looks the part. He’s big and rangy, and moves very well. He has a natural-looking pass set and a willingness to use his hands. I say "willingness" because he isn’t a great puncher yet (he mistimes his initial punch too much), but he throws them with conviction and is pretty good at replacing them when they are knocked down. There are a lot of guys who either try to clamp onto guys or just lay their hands out there and hope someone runs into them. Solder actually punches.
The biggest knock on him coming out of Colorado (and in his rookie season) was that he was a bit of waist bender. I didn’t see any of that really. He didn’t play too high, and he did a nice job of sinking his hips to lower his pad level, particularly for a guy his size.A bunch of other interesting stuff, and a ton of diagrams.
Buffalo game: http://www.footballo...crashing-nickel
It seemed that whenever the Patriots wanted to pull a guard, Connolly was the guy, and he usually impressed. When I watched tape of the Patriots last year, it was usually Mankins that was the designated puller, so it seems Connolly has been asked to step up in his absence. He did a nice job of dropping his pads at the point of contact and moving guys out of the hole when he had to.
Sebastian Vollmer impressed for a very different reason: he made Williams an absolute non-factor in the passing game. Williams has been a non-factor for most of the year so far, but he still has enough of a reputation to where stonewalling him is impressive.
One positive thing Vollmer did in pass protection that jumped out was the way he got into Williams quickly. Williams has really long arms and likes to extend on offensive tackles, either to bull rush them straight back or snatch them downward towards the turf. Vollmer short set Williams a lot, meaning he made contact almost on the line of scrimmage, engaging Williams before he could create any distance.
As good as Vollmer and Connolly were though, the real star may have been New England’s game plan. There were two key factors to Patriots’ running game. They were able to keep Buffalo in nickel personnel, and against that, the Patriots ran a lot of Strong formations (two tight ends or a tight end and a fullback on the same side of the formation) and ran right at the defensive back who was aligned in the box to counteract the run-friendly formation.
Jimmy Graham may be a better receiver (maybe), but he’s not in Gronk’s league as a blocker. His ability to block a defensive end one-on-one on a slow-developing play like this is a huge advantage for the Patriots. Anderson was barely able to lay a hand on Ridley as he ran through the hole for an 11-yard gain.
Again, a bunch of diagrams and a lot more interesting stuff.
Seeing as how the Patriots would run at the box defensive back almost every time, regardless of whether he was on the strong or weak side of the formation, it makes me think the Patriots were packaging all their runs. They would give Brady two (or more) running plays, and tell him to run right at the guy playing linebacker wearing a number that started with a two or three. It was a great game plan that was executed to perfection.
Overall, I think Connolly being out for the Arizona game, and Mankins clearly being under 100% lead to the lack of push from the line. A fully healthy Vollmer on the outside is also a very big deal (no more Marcus Cannon... anywhere really, and no spelling Vollmer). Solder seems to be continuing to improve, and the raving about the tools is certainly nice to hear. The biggest thing with the line is that you have to consider it inclusive of the tight ends. The basic mismatch that Gronk represents really can't be understated.
The entire offense seems to revolve around the poison pill choice of nickel or base for a defense. If they get nickel, they need to execute runs effectively like they did against Buffalo. If the line and the backs fail to do that (as they did against the Cardinals), then they'll be in for long days defensively because the 2-TE passing game does not have a huge advantage against a nickel defense. Failing to move the DL when they're playing 2-4-5 is the equivalent of missing connections on seam routes where Gronk is matched up with a LB. The ability to put Gronk on a DE 1 on 1, while demanding a Safety in pass coverage... there's nobody else like that in the league.
Edited by ragnarok725, 04 October 2012 - 12:51 PM.