For Patriots, offensive line is not a question mark
By LIAM BEVANS
College Contributor Network
There has been a common sentiment echoing across America since the Baltimore Ravens discarded the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs: the Patriots' offensive line is in trouble. It appears that people have very little faith in the ability of New England's Big Uglies to keep Tom Brady off the turf this Saturday in the divisional round of the Playoffs. In fact, some local radio personalities have called the Patriots offensive line their biggest weakness, stating that they have taken a step back from past units due to the preseason departure of Logan Mankins. However, the healthy unit, which the Patriots are planning to roll out to handle Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Elvis Dumervil, has been anything but pedestrian this season.
This season the Patriots as a team allowed only 26 sacks, 21 on Tom Brady and five on his backup Jimmy Garoppolo, which was good for fifth in the league. However if you break down the numbers even further you can see that this particular starting O-line of Nate Solder (LT), Dan Connolly (LG), Bryan Stork (C), Ryan Wendell (RG), and Sebastian Vollmer (LT) yielded only five sacks in the eight games they played together. Averaged out over an entire 16 game schedule, given the rate they were performing, this unit would have only allowed 10 sacks. Although that is a hypothetical result, compared to the past five seasons that is staggering production from an offensive line much maligned throughout the season. Only the '09 Colts let up less than one sack a game since the 2009 season, allowing a league low 13 sacks that year.
So why the great fear of the Ravens' pass rush? Is it the ghosts of playoffs past getting into the minds of pundits and Patriots fans alike? Maybe it's the perception that resonates from the images of Super Bowls lost by the Patriots at the hands of Big Blue. In their well-documented last three playoff battles, getting Brady on the ground has not exactly been a determining factor in Baltimore moving on. In 2009, Baltimore got to Brady three times for 22 yards in their 33-14 dismantling of New England. However, the Ravens only mustered one sack for five yards combined in their next two playoff tilts, a loss in 2011 and a win in 2012.
There is no doubt this will be an epic battle this weekend between two of the NFL's elite. Just don't expect Tom Brady to be watching the majority of this game from his back, and don't start cursing the day the Patriots shipped Logan Mankins off to Tampa Bay. The O-line has earned more respect than that.
Liam Bevans is a graduate student at Boston College. He has spent the last six years working for the BC football team both as a student and as an intern. Follow him on twitter: @liham_andcheese