The Key to It All: Breaking Down the New England Patriots' "Big Uglies"

Ryan BurnsAnalyst IMay 15, 2009

There are no stats, few postgame interviews, and even fewer MVP awards for some players in the National Football League. 

They are not on any fantasy football draft board, and could probably walk down the busiest street and not get recognized by the common man.

Yet a select few people in the NFL have a job of the utmost importance. 

Aside from Pro Bowl recognition, the members of an offensive line are gauged based on the performance of others. 

1,000-yard rusher?  Thank the guys up front.

4,000-yard passer?  Take them out for dinner.

Lombardi Trophy?  Buy them each a Rolex.

Offensive linemen play the least glamorous position in all of sports, bar none. Their toughness, loyalty, and dedication are tested on every play. 

Members of the opposing defensive line have the same mentality. However they can be motivated by personal statistics such as sacks, hurries, interceptions, forced fumbles, passes deflected, and even touchdowns. 

Offensive linemen don't play the game for the recognition or the SportsCenter highlights.  They line up every snap and get hit in the mouth every single time. There is no such thing as taking a play off for a lineman, as one moment of hesitation could spell doom for the entire team.

Which makes the performance of the Patriots' offensive line absolutely crucial going into the 2009 season.

In 2007, the Patriots had three linemen selected to the Pro Bowl. Logan Mankins, Matt Light, and Dan Koppen were vital to the record-breaking season enjoyed by the Patriots.

However in Super Bowl XLII, the line was one of the main reasons why the Giants were able to pull off the biggest upset in Super Bowl history.  Beaten by the Giants' defense, the offensive line didn't allow Brady the same comfort that he had all season long.

Last year, however, the line performed rather well, allowing 48 sacks all season long, some of which were the product of new QB Matt Cassel holding the ball too long. 

Breaking down some of the numbers tells us how the offensive line was a key component of the Patriots' success last year.

The Patriots rushed the ball 513 times for 2,278 yards, ranking them fourth and sixth in the league, respectively.  You simply can not have that kind of production with a weak offensive line.

First downs are also a key statistic that can determine the outcome of the game, and the Patriots had 356 first downs, putting them first in the league in that category.

None of this can happen without a solid offensive line performance, as we can see that everyone else's personal stats are only as good as the line allows them to be.

As the Patriots' big men prepare for training camp, their projected starting lineup is Koppen at center, Mankins and Steven Neal as the guards, and Light and Nick Kaczur at the tackle positions.

However, the Pats have several other linemen on the depth chart that will produce in the event of an injury.  There has been a buzz about second round pick Sebastian Vollmer possibly challenging Kaczur for the starting right tackle spot.

Al Johnson recently got a one-year, $950,000 contract and, could challenge Koppen for playing time at center.

Lets not forget about Billy Yates and Russ Hochstein, as both have been fantastic subs through their careers. 

The bottom line is that no matter how much depth the Patriots have at running back, no matter how many weapons Brady has to throw to, it won't mean anything if the line doesn't do their jobs. 

Stats? Please. 

A "W" is the only stat that matters for the Patriots' "big uglies."