The Patriots Offensive Line Did the Impossible

As I opened my hazy, blood shot eyes to this post from Pro Football Focus this morning, it occurred to me that as much as we’re grateful for the job the Patriots offensive line did in this championship run, I don’t think we fully grasp the magnitude of it. What Dante Scarnecchia’s little Justice League of Protection pulled off might be one of the greatest playoff runs by any unit in the Super Bowl era. And I’m not just talking about O-lines either. This could be right up with there with other postseasons of incredible dominance like the 46 front of the 1985 Bears or the linebackers corps of the ’86 Giants or the passing attack of the ’94 49ers. The kind of performance that generations from now future football historians will look back on an marvel at, when they’re not scrounging in the wasteland for drinking water and petroleum for their warlords.

In the interest of time and my own laziness and attention deficit, I’m going to put aside what the Pats O-line did in the run game and just focus on the pass protection. Because it’s quite possible they had as tough a collection of opposing pass rushers to stop as any Super Bowl champion ever has. I can’t exactly quantify that. Which is to say, I’m unwilling to comb through 52 other champions to prove my point. Maybe someone will come at me and say “You’re forgetting about how Johnny Unitas has to go up against Whoever and Whattheirnames,” but I don’t have the time nor the inclination. All I know is that no blindfolded fraternity pledge ever had to run through the Hot Oven that Tom Brady’s offensive line, blocking backs and tight ends had to guide him through.

Consider these stats, all taken from Cris Collinsworth’s nerd sweat shop at PFF. Note that the Tweet above was just about the NFC West. Now notice how many of these top defenders were on teams the Patriots had to go through.

The overall grades among all NFL defensive tackles:

OL 1

The pass rush grades among all NFL defensive tackles:

OL 2

The pass rush grades among all edge defenders:

OL 3

The grades among edge rushers in “Pass Rush Productivity,” which measures pressures per snap:

OL 4

And total pressures on the season among edge rushers:

OL 5

So the names that come up in all these metrics are:

From the Chargers: Uchenna Nwosu, Joey Bosa and Justin Houston
From the Chiefs: Chris Jones, Dee Ford and Justin Houston
From the Rams: DPOTY Aaron Donald, playing alongside Ndamukong Suh

And here’s the sum total of what they were able to do against the Patriots protection:

LAC – Nwosu, Bosa, Houston, on 44 Pass Attempts: 0 Sacks, 4 Hurries, 1 QB Hit, 0 Pressures
KC – Jones, Ford, Houston, on 46 Pass Attempts: 0 Sacks, 4 Hurries, 0 QB Hits, 1 Pressure
LAR – Donald, Suh, on 35 Pass Attempts: 1 Sack, 3 Hurries, 1 QB Hit, 0 Pressures

That’s a total of 125 Attempts, 1 Sack, 11 Hurries, 2 Hits and 1 Pressure. By eight of the most feared, respected and statistically significant pass rushers of our day.

And just to zoom in the microscope onto Donald for a second because he’s the most dominant interior presence we’ve ever seen, on the year he had 21 Sacks, 24 QB Hits, 68 Hurries and had FIVE games with six or more Hurries. While every coordinator and offensive line coach in the league did nothing but throw double teams at him. But against Scarnecchia’s Sons of Blocking Anarchy, he managed 1 Hit and 1 Hurry.

And let us never forget that some of those times he was being single-blocked, like these two crucial plays by Joe Thuney that forced even Donald to admit he got beaten on:

And while we’re on the subject, this seems like the perfect time to remind you that Thuney was the return in the Chandler Jones trade, along with Super Bowl LI semi-hero Malcolm Mitchell. Remember that the next time someone says they never should’ve traded Jones away. Moving along …

The point I’m making is that, as good as you think they played in January and February, I don’t think we recognized the Patriots O-line enough. At least somebody did.

And I’ll keep working on it.