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How the Patriots were able to run such a diverse rushing attack in the Super Bowl

NFL: New England Patriots at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of Super Bowl LIII there has been no shortage of praise thrown at the New England Patriots and their offensive line coach, Dante Scarnecchia, for both the job the offensive line did in protecting Tom Brady and the diversity of the team’s rushing attack in the Super Bowl. However, the success of the Patriots in these two areas is not random, and stems from a word that is talked about quite a bit regarding offensive lines: Continuity.

Fans are likely tired of hearing this word over and over from pundits, coaches and other observers, but large parts of the Patriots success over the past two decades can be traced back to this concept. Here is the type of run game diversity that New England is able to run as a result of their continuity, and as a result of not having to teach new guys new concepts season after season.

Specifically, the Patriots successfully manage the offensive line by maintaining continuity over the years by limiting the number of rookies starting in any given season. To that point, here is the number of games rookie offensive linemen for the Pats have started since the spring of 1999 when Pete Carroll moved Dante Scarnecchia from special teams coach to offensive line coach for the team.

Games started by rookie offensive linemen for the New England Patriots since 1999

Season Games Started by Rookie
Season Games Started by Rookie
1999 16
2000 10
2001 12
2002 1
2003 15
2004 0
2005 27
2006 7
2007 0
2008 2
2009 8
2010 0
2011 16
2012 0
2013 1
2014 17
2015 30
2016 17
2017 0
2018 0

What immediately jumps out from that table are two seasons - 2005 and 2015 - as they are obviously far above the norm for the number of games rookie linemen started for the team. It’s no coincidence that 2015 is the season for in which the Pats fell to the Broncos in the AFC Championship Game in which Brady took four sacks and 17 hits. That was the game that led the Patriots to decide not to renew Dave DeGuglielmo’s contract as offensive line coach, and to bring Scarnecchia back from his two year retirement.

However, that 2015 season laid the foundation for the Patriots line for the foreseeable future. Those 30 games started by rookies came from:

  • Guard Shaq Mason, 10 starts
  • Center David Andrews, 11 starts
  • Guard Tre’ Jackson, 9 starts

Now, Jackson saw his career derailed by a knee injury, and missing the 2016 season on PUP and being out of football in 2017 and 2018, he’s still trying to make things work in the Alliance of American Football. He just turned 26, which makes him five months younger than George Fant, so he still may have a future in the NFL if his knee heals, however, his story is a different tangent that is not the focus of this piece.

The focus of this piece is the simple fact that since the 2015 took their lumps by starting three rookie offensive linemen two of those linemen have continued to develop into high caliber players. Specifically, since that season Mason and Andrews have combined to start 91 of 96 possible games for New England, and neither of them is anywhere near old. Mason will turn 26 just days before the 2019 season and Andrews will turn 27 just prior to the start of training camp. That’s forty percent of the offensive line about which the Patriots don’t have to worry, and then there’s Joe Thuney.

Thuney has played basically every single snap possible during his three years in New England since being drafted in the third round of the 2016 draft, and it would be quite a shock if Bill Belichick doesn’t sign Thuney to an extension sometime over the next year. That would lock up the core of the Patriots line for the foreseeable future, as Andrews is under contract through 2020 and Mason is signed through 2023.

In short, the Patriots have established a young core for the offensive line to provide holes for the run game and protect Tom Brady, and a huge piece of the establishment of that foundation was the fact that the team bit the bullet and used three rookie starters in 2015. Perhaps they should send a Super Bowl ring to Dave DeGuglielmo for helping establish that young core.