FOXBORO -- The Patriots have done something that very few teams in the modern NFL have been able to do. They've built an offensive line, one that was good enough to win a Super Bowl, and then kept it together.
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To have a starting five make it through almost the entirety of the year, as New England's did in 2016, is rare. But then to have the same five back to make another run? That's a rare luxury.
When the Patriots won the Super Bowl in 2014, they had an entirely new interior of their offensive line starting in Week 1 of the following season. When the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015, center Matt Paradis was the only Super Bowl starting lineman on the field for Week 1 of 2016.
The current Patriots line not only has an uncommon level of experience together, but they've avoided many of the pitfalls that have hampered protection schemes across the NFL.
They're not dealing with young players still adjusting to three-point stances. And the lack of practice time that lines have together in the preseason shouldn't bother them as much as other units because they've seen well over 1,000 game-day snaps together.
They speak the same language. They know each other's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.
Yet the product on the field hasn't translated through the first half of this season. Tom Brady is on pace to absorb more sacks (42) than he's ever taken in his 17 years as a starter.
Dante Scarnecchia met with reporters on Wednesday for the annual bye-week media availability period for Patriots assistants, and he was asked for his assessment of his starting five -- left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Shaq Mason and right tackle Marcus Cannon.
“We should protect our quarterback better than what we have been doing,” Scarnecchia said. “We’re trending in that direction over the last two weeks. We’ve seen some good rushers out there. Guys have done a much better job. Tommy seems to be a little bit more upright than he was in the first six games. Hopefully, we are trending in that direction to where we can really throw up a wall in front of this guy and help him."
But why, Scarnecchia was asked, has there been issues when consistent availability and experience together are two of the defining characteristics of his year's group?
"For having the same five guys . . . maybe we're not pass-blocking as well as we did last year when you think we should be," Scarnecchia said. "And I think I have to do a better job of coaching them and getting more out of them."
Scarnecchia was brought back into coaching last season for the express purpose of getting his group in order and he did. He's widely renowned as one of the best in the game at his job. So to hear him put the onus on himself was eye-opening.
"I just think it's usually a result of techniques," he said. "We have to do better at what we're doing and understand what certain things mean as far as -- if a guy's going to blitz on the outside, well that means the guy you're going to block is going to go inside. We can't let those things happen where we're not responding the way we should.
"It's not for a lack of effort. We're trying to do it right. They're trying to do it right. We've just gotta it done a better than what we're doing.
Look, we’re eight games into this deal, and no one is satisfied. They’re not. I’m not. Certainly, the head coach isn’t. We're gonna continue to work at it.”
One area where Scarnecchia has been satisfied with his unit's improvement? Short-yardage running situations.
The Patriots were three-for-four on third and fourth-and-1 conversion opportunities against the Chargers last weekend -- a far cry from their conversion rate in Week 1 against the Chiefs when they failed to convert in two fourth-and-one situations.
"It wasn't very good. It has gotten better," Scarnecchia said. "It needs to continue to be better. We were terrible the first two games. Got better since then. That's an area, situational football, where you have to be really good at."
The Patriots offensive line has dealt with a handful of injuries -- the latest being an ankle issue that knocked Marcus Cannon from the Chargers game and held him out of Wednesday's practice -- but when healthy, they've proven they can be a championship-caliber unit. So even despite a rocky start, when Scarnecchia says he feels as though they're moving in the right direction both in terms of pass-protection and run-blocking, you're inclined to believe him.