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Patriots' offensive line coming into form again

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Jan. 02, 2010 @ 8:21 a.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

Since the Saints shredded the Patriots' offensive line in Week 12, that group has responded with its best stretch of the season. From Week 13 on, the group hasn't allowed a sack, and their total for the season was a mere 16, just 15 with Tom Brady at QB. Only the Colts and Titans have allowed fewer heading into the final game of the season.

"Fifteen sacks all season," Brady said after the Week 16 win over the Jaguars. "That's one a game. I mean, that's a remarkable job by those guys up front and (OL coach) Dante (Scarnecchia), the way he coaches those guys."

The run blocking has been a high point. The team has run for at least 96 yards in every game but three, and those all occurred in the first four games of the season. The strong rushing performances against the Panthers and Jaguars suggest this could be an underrated element of the club heading into the postseason.

There have been a number of injuries up front, though none too major that kept anyone out for an extended period. One of the important developments has been the quick ascension of rookie OT Sebastian Vollmer, who has done a remarkable job at both left and right tackle. His work against Colts DE Dwight Freeney in Week 10 was especially impressive. It appears now that Vollmer will replace the struggling Nick Kaczur, who has been one of the few disappointments up front, especially after he signed a three-year extension in the offseason.

OLG Logan Mankins, who would like to sign an extension as a pending free agent, hasn't let his uncertain long-term status affect his performance. He earned his second Pro Bowl bid with his typically feisty play. The Patriots often run behind him in key short-yardage situations, and he usually delivers a workmanlike effort with good results.

The one question now comes at right guard, where Dan Connolly rotated with Stephen Neal, the incumbent starter, against the Jaguars. The Patriots appear to be intrigued with Connolly, who has proved to be a valuable fill-in this season at center and guard, also lining up as an extra lineman in short-yardage and goal-line packages as well as at fullback in a few situations. The Patriots recently signed him to an extension through the 2011 season and won't hesitate to put him in if needed.


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