New England Patriots: Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon will decide New England’s season
Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon need to play well if New England aims to return to the Super Bowl.
The fate of the New England Patriots’ 2017 season will be decided by the play of offensive tackles Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon.
As Sandra Bullock so easily explains in ‘The Blind Side‘:
"“Now, y’all would guess that more often than not, the highest paid player on an NFL team is the quarterback. And you’d be right. But what you probably don’t know is that more often than not, the second highest paid player is, thanks to Lawrence Taylor, a left tackle. Because, as every housewife knows, the first check you write is for the mortgage, but the second is for the insurance. The left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming. To protect his blind side.”"
While losing Rob Gronkowski or Julian Edelman would warrant a noticeable drop in the team’s play, they’re not absolutely necessary for a Super Bowl repeat. Contrastingly, an injury to either offensive tackle spots could be the ultimate knockout punch for New England.
In 2017, the Patriots are set to face a highly-productive group of pass rushers. Among them: Von Miller, Khalil Mack, J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Cameron Jordan, Justin Houston, Vic Beasley, Cameron Wake, and plenty of other decorated defenders. All of the Patriots offense-boosting additions will count for nothing If Tom Brady isn’t protected.
In four seasons, Brady has finished 11 games with four-or-more sacks. Four in 2013, three in 2014, two in 2015, and two in 2016. New England is 6-5 in those 11 games.
The last time the Patriots were without their starting left tackle was 2015 when Nate Solder lost his season to a torn bicep. Brady was sacked 38 times that season, the third most in his career. In the AFC Championship versus the Denver Broncos, Brady was sacked four times and the Patriots were beaten 20-18.
If New England wants to reach the Super Bowl, Solder and Cannon must keep opposing pass rushers away from Brady. The threats presented by Brandin Cooks, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman are useless if he doesn’t have the time to throw.
New England’s offensive line corps doesn’t feature the same talented and experienced depth as their skill position groups. Rookie tackle Tony Garcia doesn’t offer the same insurance to his position as Chris Hogan and Malcom Mitchell due to their’s. The same goes for fourth-year tackle, Cameron Fleming.
The Patriots lack of veteran depth behind Solder and Cannon could entice them to trade for a backup offensive lineman. Knowing the strength of their opponents’ pass rush, the team would be wise to address and improve their pass protection.
Second-year guard Joe Thuney could also fill in at offensive tackle. In his ‘Draft Profile‘ on NFL.com, Lance Zierlein writes of him:
"“Thuney has played everywhere on the offensive line for the Wolfpack, beginning his career as back-up center as a redshirt freshman, starting at right tackle, right guard and left tackle in 2013, lining up at left guard in 2014 before returning to the blind side tackle spot as a senior. The second-team All-ACC pick has the strong versatility…”"
Of course, moving Thuney to tackle would leave an opening at guard, most likely filled by second-year lineman, Ted Karras.
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If Solder and Cannon remain healthy, New England will have a much easier time dealing with opposing defenses. If not, it could cost them their chance at a Super Bowl repeat.