One of the biggest narratives regarding Tom Brady’s advanced age during the offseason was the Patriots’ need to run the ball more in order to protect their signal caller.
Yours truly was not one to subscribe to that mentality. As long as you have the best player in football out there on a football field, let him play football. The Patriots thus far have agreed.
While running the ball a tad more than a season before, the Patriots have kept with their pattern of historically running the ball 40% of the time. Bill Belichick will tell you that a team doesn’t plan a number of run plays and pass plays in a game or season, and he’s right, but if things go the way they should, they tend to settle toward a norm. That’s the case here:
Run play percentage
The 2015 season is the real outlier because, as you may recall, the offensive line was so banged up Bryan Stork, who began the year as the starting center, ended up playing some right tackle, James Develin was on IR all season, and running back depth was hit so hard by injury that by the end of the year, the corpse of Steven Jackson was carrying the ball for New England.
The Patriots’ pass protection was much maligned in 2017 by fans worried about the next big hit that could end Brady’s season – or career. In all, Brady took 35 sacks and 84 hits, both of which were very much middle-of-the-road. Despite all the hand-wringing last season about the performance of the line, fans also went crazy when the Patriots let Nate Solder go to the New York Giants, paying him $62 million over four years with $34.8 million guaranteed. Solder somehow went from being terrible to being the most valuable part of the team seemingly overnight. It was amazing. The Patriots drafted tackle Isaiah Wynn with their first pick in the draft and traded for tackle Trent Brown. Wynn went down in the preseason with an Achilles’ tear, making Brown the starter at left tackle by default.
So without Solder and without running the ball more, Brady is totally getting creamed, right?
In fact, Brady has taken all of six sacks this season. That’s tied for the least sacks allowed by an offensive line. The Patriots’ 3.2% sack percentage is also best in the league. Brady has taken 25 hits, which also ranks a respectable 12th overall.
Percentage-wise, the line is performing as well as it has in recent memory:
It’s especially impressive when you look at the sack percentages of the teams they’ve played. Detroit is second, getting to the quarterback 10.1% of the time. Indianapolis is sixth at 7.9%. Houston is 11th (6.7%), and Jacksonville is 14th (6.3%). Miami is the only Patriots opponent in the bottom half of the league in sack percentage.
Brady took two sacks in each of the first three games. The offensive line has pitched shutouts the last two, albeit against opponents with missing pieces to their defensive front. Still, things appear to be heading in the right direction with a Kansas City team that has 15 sacks in five games coming to town.
According to Jeff Howe of The Athletic, through five weeks, no one on the line has allowed more than one sack. Brown hasn’t been perfect as he’s allowed seven hits on Brady, but considering the level of defender he’s faced with the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, and Robert Quinn, he’s acquitted himself fairly well. The interior of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason have allowed two sacks and seven hits through five games. Andrews is ranked by Pro Football Focus as the No. 9 center in the league, while Mason and Thuney are 10th and 14th among guards. Marcus Cannon, who has missed time with lingering leg issues, has had his good and bad moments, but overall has not been a liability, and once again performed well in his showdown with the league’s sack leader J.J. Watt.
Brady’s quick release (he’s averaging 2.59 seconds from snap to throw) and the return of Julian Edelman obviously benefit the line, but overall, the unit has played well. For the Patriots to make a run at another championship, they’ll have to continue to do so.
(AP Photo/Steven Senne)