by J.J. Cooper
Coming into the first week of the season, everyone expected that the Patriots’ offensive line might struggle a little. New England had traded away guard Logan Mankins and his six Pro Bowl appearances to the Bucs in the preseason under the theory that it's better to trade too soon than too late. Also, longtime offensive line coach/miracle worker Dante Scarnecchia retired.
So it wasn't surprising that the Patriots' offensive line was shaky in a surprising loss to the Dolphins. The surprise was where the problems began.
The interior of the Patriots’ line is supposed to be the problem. Rookie Jordan Devey started at one guard spot. Marcus Cannon, who also serves as a backup tackle, started at the other guard spot and Ryan Wendell was at center. And yes, they weren’t very good against the Dolphins.
But it’s the tackles that should be the strength of the Patriots offensive line. Last Sunday Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer were problems, not solutions. Of the four sacks the Patriots gave up, Solder was beaten twice and Vollmer was beaten for another.
Solder was having the most problems, although Vollmer wasn’t putting together a Munoz-ian performance himself.
Vollmer was very solid in pass protection last year, so there’s reason to think that his rough week is just a one-time issue.
But Solder’s problems are more disconcerting. The Patriots’ 2011 first-round pick gave up 9.5 sacks last season, most of which came when he was beaten by simple speed rushes around the edge. With a 37-year-old quarterback in Tom Brady, the Patriots need their left tackle to develop a little bit more reliability. Solder has plenty of athleticism for a left tackle, but as you can see with both of the sacks he gave up last week, his punch is not stopping or even slowing rushers.
WE’RE BACK: Welcome back to another year of Under Pressure. We’ll take a look at who’s given up sacks and how long those sacks are taking. If you’re new to Under Pressure, here’s a quick breakdown of how sacks are divided. If you’ve read Under Pressure for years, thanks for reading and here’s a reminder. Short sacks are those that take 2.5 seconds or less. Sacks of 2.6 to 3.1 seconds are “normal” or medium sacks. And long sacks are those that take 3.2 seconds or more.
Those times split sacks into roughly equal thirds. Last year, there were 425 short sacks (32.8 percent), 413 medium sacks (31.9 percent) and 457 long sacks (35.3 percent). In the first week, Brady, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger all had three short sacks to lead the league. Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer was the only quarterback with three long sacks.
LONG SACK OF THE WEEK: The longest sack of Week 1 is one of the more embarrassing and more famous sacks you’ll see in quite a while. With eight seconds left in the second quarter, the Ravens were virtually assured of at least three points. Flacco had one shot to try to score a touchdown before settling for the field goal. In a worst-case scenario, if no one was open he just needed to throw the ball away.
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Instead, he managed to run around for 9.2 seconds before being tripped up 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. With 0:00 showing on the clock, Flacco’s lack of awareness cost the Ravens a likely three points.
To fully explain how egregious this sack was, it’s the only sack of the week that would have run out the clock. Flacco’s 9.2-second sack was 3.9 seconds longer than any other sack in Week 1. We’d run a GIF of the play, but loading a 9.2-second sack would take forever and might bust through any data cap you have on your mobile plan.
SHORT SACK OF THE WEEK: Being a center is never an easy job. You have to snap the ball on time and accurately, bark out line calls and then deal with a defensive lineman who often outweighs you.
It’s a rough job, but Chris Myers failed in many ways on a second-quarter play against the Redskins. First, Myers’ snap to quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was low. Fitzpatrick dropped it, then had to scoop it up.
By itself, that might have ruined the play. The fact that Myers followed up his poor snap by failing to do more than breath on Jason Hatcher made it much, much worse. Hatcher flew by Myers for a sack only 1.5 seconds after the snap.
(Note: Under Pressure will appear biweekly rather than weekly this season, with future editions covering two weeks of sacks at a time.