Patriots Offensive Line Mistakes Loom Large in Loss to Panthers

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor INovember 21, 2013

"All war is based on deception."

Sun Tzu's words were first translated into English over 100 years ago, but they were still applicable when watching the New England Patriots fall to the Carolina Panthers, 24-20.

If a defense knows what the offense is going to do, the athletes in the NFL are too good not to make the play. Offenses crave misdirection and illusion.

Offensive plays are often based on deceiving the defense for that critical half-second. Creating a false step for a linebacker. Moving a safety three feet to the left. These subtle victories are often the difference between a one-yard gain and a chunk play.

Two plays in particular stuck out in the Patriots game. On one, the offensive line failed to deceive the Panthers defensive line. On the other, they got a taste of their own medicine.

These two mistakes by the offensive line effectively killed two drives and proved to be the difference in a very close game.

The Patriots love the play-action pass. On this play, they are going to simulate the power run to the right side. Marcus Cannon and Michael Hoomanawanui double-team the tackle, Rob Gronkowski kicks out the end and Logan Mankins pulls across the formation, leading Stevan Ridley through the hole. 

The deception here works for the most part. Mankins pulling has drawn up the linebackers. Nate Solder is protecting the backside. Ryan Wendell, however, has an incredibly difficult job.

He is tasked with executing a reach block on Star Lotulelei—the Panthers' first pick in the 2014 NFL draft—who is lined up as a 4-technique. That is a tough task for any center, but nearly impossible against a player the caliber of Lotulelei.

The play has nearly gone off without a hitch. The linebackers are only now reacting to the fake. There are acres of space behind them for Tom Brady to exploit. Unfortunately, Wendell wasn't able to get a big enough piece of Lotulelei, who proceeds to dump Brady for the second sack of the night.

The deception here was excellent, the blocks were simply not executed. Unfortunately for the Patriots, the Panthers had some David Copperfield to their game as well.

The Panthers are showing a double "A-gap" blitz and have more rushers than the Patriots can account for. Brady doesn't believe that he will see all seven rush—which turns out to be correct—otherwise he would have changed this play. 

Mass confusion reigns. The Patriots shifted their protection to the offense's right, but the defense countered by nearly vacating that side of the line. The Panthers dropped four of their rushers, including their right defensive tackle, who Nate Solder had picked out as his man.

The Patriots end up with four blockers covering the left defensive end—including Shane Vereen releasing into a route—center Ryan Wendell blocking the blitzing Luke Kuechly with some help from Dan Connolly and Nate Solder stuck with nothing to do but watch his quarterback get sacked.

A safe defense—dropping eight into coverage—getting pressure on the quarterback is a huge win for the Panthers. This sack pushed the Patriots out of field-goal range and ended their first drive of the night.

If the Patriots get their protection right, Stephen Gostkowski possibly has a chance at a deep field-goal try early in the game and another—much more important—attempt with little to no time on the clock to win the game.

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