Patriots

The stats tell us the Patriots have the best guard tandem in the NFL with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason

The stats tell us the Patriots have the best guard tandem in the NFL with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason

More than any other sport, football is a game of inches. As much as we love to focus on superstar wide receivers and hard-hitting defensive players, games are won and lost based on the little things. The Patriots thrive on maximizing every aspect of their team to continually narrow down ways for them to lose games. 

Most of the best Patriots teams run by Bill Belichick have featured strong interior offensive line play, and a Pro Football Focus stat has the 2018 guard tandem of Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney as the best in the NFL. 

Mason, a four-year veteran who has started 55 games for the Patriots dating back to his rookie season, graded out as the best run-blocking guard in the league and the eighth-best in pass protection. Mason signed a five-year contract extension in April, so the Patriots can sleep easy knowing they have a terrific right guard for years to come. 

Thuney turned in an equally strong 2018 campaign. He was ranked the fifth-best pass blocking guard and was second in run blocking right behind Mason. The Patriots running game carried their offense in 2018 when Tom Brady struggled and it's likely they'll lean on Thuney and Mason again with Sony Michel leading the charge in the backfield. 

A key variable missing from the Patriots' strong running game in 2018 won't be there when their Super Bowl championship defense kicks off this September. With Rob Gronkowski's retirement, Thuney and Mason will have to step up and be relied upon even more than last year to get a solid push on opponent's defensive lines. 

New England has invested a bit more into their outside receiving corps in drafting N'Keal Harry and bringing on Demaryius Thomas, so maybe we'll see more of a vertical passing game in 2019, forcing Mason and Thuney to hold up in pass protection. As we can see in PFF's grades, that shouldn't be a problem.

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These stats sum up impressive improvement Patriots' pass rush has made in 2019

These stats sum up impressive improvement Patriots' pass rush has made in 2019

The New England Patriots didn't have much of a pass rush last season, but 2019 has been a far different (and better) story.

The improvement in the Patriots' pass rush was evident Sunday in the team's 17-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field, where New England tallied five sacks. The pressure the Pats put on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz swung the momentum in their favor as they shutout Philly over the final three quarters.

The defending Super Bowl champs have dominated opposing offensive lines throughout the season with 37 sacks in 10 games -- the second-highest total in the NFL and two behind the San Francisco 49ers and Carolina Panthers for the league lead. The Patriots tallied only 30 sacks in all of 2018, which tied for the second-fewest.

It's been a long time, as ESPN's Mike Reiss notes, since the Patriots had 37 sacks at this point in a season:

The Patriots have done a good job slowing down the opponent's pass rush, too. Sacks aren't the only stat to factor when grading offensive linemen, but New England's pass protection has allowed the fourth-fewest sacks in the league. The Patriots, as a result, are tied with the 49ers for the best net sack total:

Sunday's test against the Dallas Cowboys should be a tough one for the Patriots. The Cowboys have one of the most talented offensive lines in the league. Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has been sacked a league-low 12 times, and based on the fact he's playing at an MVP-level right now, pressuring him in the pocket will be of the utmost importance in Week 12.

Pats' D must beat Prescott in this specific area of the field>>>

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Will Antonio Brown play again in 2019? Ex-Patriot reportedly is optimistic

Will Antonio Brown play again in 2019? Ex-Patriot reportedly is optimistic

Remember when Antonio Brown insisted he was "done" with the NFL? Well, he's already had a change of heart.

The former New England Patriots wide receiver not only wants to play again, but remains "hopeful" the NFL will make a decision regarding his playing status "very soon," ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio reported Tuesday.

"There’s a sense of optimism from Brown’s perspective that he will be cleared to return to the NFL before the 2019 regular season ends," Florio wrote.

Brown met with the NFL last Thursday to discuss allegations of rape and sexual assault made against him. The league is still conducting an investigation into those allegations, but if that investigation is completed, the free-agent wide receiver can sign with any club, although he could be subject to further discipline upon his return.

Brown's optimism may explain why he issued a public apology to Patriots owner Robert Kraft on Tuesday via social media. Quarterback Tom Brady and wideout Julian Edelman were among several Patriots to "like" Brown's post on Instagram, fueling speculation he may re-sign with New England after playing one game for the team earlier this season.

Florio also noted the Seattle Seahawks reportedly have "flirted" with signing Brown, which would team him up with fellow Patriots cast-off Josh Gordon.

That's all speculation at the moment, though, as Brown remains in a holding pattern until the NFL makes a decision about his allegations. Brown seemingly hopes that holding pattern ends with six weeks left in the regular season.

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