The New England Patriots have made a living off of taking the next guy on the depth chart and making him a star. Brian Kelly called it the "next guy in" philosophy when he was at Cincinnati while Bill Belichick calls it...well, nothing. But that's just Bill being Bill.
Few teams would be able to withstand the loss of an offensive lineman like Logan Mankins, but that is exactly what the Patriots did in Week 4. With Mankins sidelined with an injury, Donald Thomas—whom everyone (myself included) wanted to write off two weeks ago—stepped into the lineup and kept the vaunted defensive line of the Buffalo Bills from touching Tom Brady or the Patriots running backs.
But hey, that's just the Patriot way. If one player can't do the job, there is someone right there who is well-coached and motivated to take over. The interesting part is that this is just the latest example of this trend.
Last season, starting center Dan Koppen went down with a broken ankle and Dan Connelly slipped right into the starting lineup without missing a beat. Connelly has continued his fill-in role in 2012, sliding over to right guard to replace All-Pro Brian Waters with Ryan Wendell playing center.
In case you are keeping count, that's two Pro Bowl-caliber players out of the lineup and one player moved from his natural position. Even with all of this working against them, the Patriots offensive line steamrolled the Bills defense like they were a group of Pop Warner backups.
What makes this unit the perfect example of New England's plug-and-play system? Twenty-eight-year NFL coaching veteran—with 26 seasons in New England—Dante Scarnecchia.
Scarnecchia has been coaching the Patriots offensive line for the last 11 years, and in that time the team has seen its greatest run of success to date. For the same reason teams with fickle coaching staffs fail, consistency and good coaching set this unit apart year after year.
So as Mankins remains on the Patriots' injury report for another week, the last thing Patriots fans should be worried about is who will being playing left guard. As long as Scarnecchia is the one blowing the whistle behind the blocking dummies, this unit will be in fantastic hands.
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