NEPD Editor: Oliver Thomas
It has been trial and error for the New England Patriots. But there were very few errors involved when the Patriots deployed a different combination on the interior offensive line against the then-undefeated Cincinnati Bengals Sunday night.
With two-year starting center Ryan Wendell over at right guard, Dan Connolly opposite him at left guard, and rookie Bryan Stork in the middle, the pieces fit into place. And those pieces changed the complexion of New England’s offense on the way to unlocking Cincinnati’s defense.
It it began with aggressiveness at the line of scrimmage. Stork, a fourth-round pick in May, was an integral part of it. The Week 5 game marked only the second start of his season and NFL career, but aside from false start and holding penalties in the third quarter, the game proved to not be too fast for him.
Sometimes, he was too fast for it.
The Florida State product held his own at the point of attack over the course of his 87 snaps. He got to the second level with a sense of urgency to seal the inside linebackers out of the run. He forged ahead while Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen tallied 203 rushing yards on 36 carries, with 64 of them arriving on 13 carries through the A-gaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
Stork stood apart for his alertness; for the way in which he searched and attacked the teeth of a Cincinnati defense missing its Pro Bowl run-enforcing linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
The 6’4”, 310-pounder’s primary work was rooted against the defensive tackles aligned across from him, though. It was there that he helped stifle the likes of veteran Domata Peko, former second-round pick Devon Still, as well as two-time All-Pro Geno Atkins.
That was seen when he was uncovered and reached for a combination block as the outskirts began to close in. In many ways, it consequently cleared the middle for quarterback Tom Brady to scramble.
Stork’s alertness was met with strength when the Patriots went to play action. That was seen as he delivered with powerful hand replacement versus swim and spin moves. And it was seen as he followed through his blocks with a downhill demeanor from the cleats on up.
It allowed the constituents of New England’s backfield to do the same.
It made a difference.
After a week in which Brady spent an average of 2.19 seconds from snap to throw, the quarterback was able to make the most of his time on Oct. 5, stepping up into the pocket and delivering passes to receivers deeper down the field.
Although Brady only spent an average of 2.26 seconds before passing this time around, there was a difference in the quality of those seconds. It was about time as well as space.
He had enough of it, in turn, distributing the ball to eight different targets in summation of a 23-of-35 a passing performance with 292 yards and two touchdowns.
It was, however, a collective effort and it began up front. Connolly’s pull blocks and Wendell’s experience carried over at guard. And as a result, things flourished outward. Tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer appeared comfortable in their responsibilities, ranging from the width of their stances during run blocks, to the depth of drops during pass protection.
The two bookends had reinforcements in the B-gaps, and they were able to control the C-gaps with their plant feet and kick slides. And despite tight end Rob Gronkowski’s lapse against defensive end Robert Geathers, the overall starting unit did not allow a sack or a quarterback hit by the time the Patriots notched a 41-17 victory.
Stork did not allow a hurry.
With continuity evading the Patriots through the initial month of the season, there’s something to be said for what the Patriots found at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night. From left to right, Solder, Connolly, Stork, Wendell and Vollmer will be the nucleus moving forward. They will be, because while not every runway or pocket will be clean, the group proved its integrity as the foundation for New England’s offense to build from.
No. 66 will be at the center of it.