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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