Chances are, nine out of 10 people will know who you are talking about, and you’ll likely find yourself in the middle of a hot debate between Patriots lovers and haters.
But try throwing out names like Logan Mankins, Matt Light, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal, Nick Kaczur, and even Russ Hochstein, and you’re sure to get far less responses.
Just who are these people?
They are the offensive line for the AFC Champion New England Patriots.
This extraordinary bunch of medium-sized lineman have protected their quarterback extremely well all year long and helped fuel an efficient rushing attack when needed. And just to help you get an idea of how good this group is, a look at the statistics is all that is necessary.
The Pats offense is eighth among playoff teams, with 4.1 yards per rush. They allowed 21 total sacks in the regular season, which averages only 1.3 per game, fifth-lowest in the NFL. They were also penalized a mere 12 times for false start and seven times for holding. Minimizing penalties is a key component of excellence for any great team.
The average fan perhaps won’t comprehend the importance of a good line, but consider this: When watching Tom Brady this year, we can see him standing in the pocket with all the time he needs.
With this time, Brady is able to pick apart opposing defenses and put jaw-dropping numbers on the board. Brady’s numbers included a 68.9 completion percentage, 4,806 yards, 50 touchdowns, and a 117.2 quarterback rating, all career highs. His 50 TDs broke Peyton Manning’s NFL single-season record.
True, Brady is a top quarterback, but the numbers he put up this year would have never been possible without consistent, excellent play from his offensive line.
Now the Patriots find themselves in the Super Bowl, facing a rematch with the New York Giants. The Giants gave the Pats some problems in their first meeting in the final game of the season, when the Giants held a 12 point lead at one time and scored the most points against the Pats all year. New England pulled it out in the end, keeping the perfect season intact.
The game helped give the Giants confidence though, and they’ve continued their road winning streak all the way to the Super Bowl where it now stands at a record 10.
A key matchup in this game will be the Patriots’ O-line against the Giants’ pass-rushing duo of Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora. Strahan and Umenyiora definitely make a menacing pass rush, but if the Patriots’ line can give Brady enough time, as they have all year, he will likely find a way to hit his open receivers and lead his team to its fourth Super Bowl in seven years.