Patriot's Offensive Line Must Step Up
This past Sunday, New England went through what most teams deal with when they get out of an dramatic win: they let down. The Houston Texans were ready right out of the gate and they almost ended their nine game losing streak in front of their home crowd. However, it is said that good teams always find a way to win despite underperforming, and the Patriots clawed their way back to their ninth win of the season.
New England must not make the same error this Sunday, as it meets the Cleveland Browns, a mysterious team that started the season strong but underperformed recently, notably losing against Jacksonville. Cleveland fans must again suffer another losing campaign.
Josh Gordon has been a stud for the Browns, as he recorded 200 receiving yards in his past two games. Even though it was against a sorry Jacksonville team, a stat line of 10 receptions, 261 yards and two touchdowns will scare any defense. Aqib Talib must be ready to shut him down and as we have seen in the past, Bill Belichick is a specialist in shutting down the opposing offense’s best weapon. The Talib-Gordon matchup will certainly be entertaining.
One aspect of the Cleveland Browns that is less flashy but as efficient is its defense. In its early season strong play; Cleveland had a shutdown defense relying on Joe Haden, Paul Kruger and T.J. Ward. The defense has been less dominant in the past games, as it allowed 195 passing yards and two touchdowns to Chad Henne, but it is still a force to be recognized.
The Browns’ pass rush has registered 33 sacks thus far, and by looking at how the New England Patriots’ offensive line plays, it is easy to believe that players like Kruger, Mingo and Phil Taylor are licking their chops. New England’s offensive line has been a fixture in the past years, but this year it played at a sub-par level. Last season, New England allowed Brady to be sacked a total of 27 times, and after twelve games this season, No. 12 has been sacked 32 times.
Injuries are one of the reasons for that drop-off, as right tackle Sebastian Vollmer has been out since week 8. Marcus Cannon has also played while being banged up. An important element of an offensive line play is the chemistry, as players have to know their assignments and communicate by codes in the trenches. When a player comes in fresh, he is more prone to missing an assignment. Opposing defensive coordinators also know who’s new on the line, and try to attack its newest member most of the time.
The departure of players like Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez and the absence of Rob Gronkowski at the beginning of the season all contributed to the number of sacks New England has allowed. Brady and his new receivers had to develop chemistry and, as it was seen at the beginning of the season, the lack of coordination between Brady and his receivers often resulted in broken plays and sacks. The fact that it takes more time for the New England Patriots’ quarterback to find his receivers complicates the offensive line’s job, which in turn can allow more sacks.
The lack of an imposing running game is also responsible for the increase in sacks allowed for New England. Even though the Patriots are twelfth in the league in rushing yards per game with 122.8 yards per game, these yards never came in clutch situations and it is never the running game that gave momentum to the Pats’ offense. When it came down to it, it was always the passing game that gave New England what it needed to win. The lack of powerful running game makes opposing rushers more comfortable in chasing the quarterback, as they are not scared by the run.
Stevan Ridley has shown potential, but he has also shown his fumbling problems. As for LeGarette Blount and Shane Vereen, they are consistent but have not been playmakers. The Patriots will need more from their running backs if they want to go deep into the playoffs.
Yes, we are talking about playoffs this early, but with a three game lead over Miami and four remaining games to be played, it is safe to assume that New England will be part of the post season. In order to enter the playoffs with confidence, the offensive line will have to become more reliable. Luckily for the Pats, the next game is in Foxborough, so it will be easier for the offensive line to be in sync.