Line must block out the prob­lems

Boston Herald - - BASEBALL SCOREBOARD - By JEFF HOWE Twit­ter: @jeff­phowe

FOXBORO — Tom Brady needs room to breathe and the run­ning backs need space to weave.

Thus, the Pa­tri­ots of­fen­sive line­men know they’ve got to im­prove upon their per­for­mance from the first three games of the sea­son. And be­cause they’re an ac­com­plished group that ex­pe­ri­enced suc­cess to­gether, they know the so­lu­tion ex­ists, even af­ter their tough­est game of the year.

“You don’t just go in the tank,” cen­ter David An­drews said. “It’s a long year, and (the Tex­ans are) a good foot­ball team. You just try to im­prove, keep mov­ing for­ward and learn from your mis­takes.”

Brady has been sacked 10 times and hit on 11 other oc­ca­sions. He is on pace to be sacked 53 times, which would be a dozen more than his ca­reer-worst of 41 in 2001. It’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary pace con­sid­er­ing he has only had four prior sea­sons when av­er­aged at least two sacks per game.

The Her­ald tracked all 21 hits against Brady this sea­son, which is the eighth most in the league. His pace of 112 hits eas­ily would be his worst sea­son­long beat­ing since the NFL be­gan track­ing quar­ter­back hits as an of­fi­cial statis­tic in 2009.

“There are al­ways things you can fix,” left guard Joe Thuney said. “It’s all about ex­e­cu­tion, lit­tle de­tails here and there. There’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment.”

Left tackle Nate Solder has al­lowed four sacks in the last two games, though he’s drawn some elite tal­ent across the line. Saints de­fen­sive end Cameron Jor­dan beat him once while Tex­ans de­fen­sive ends Jade­veon Clowney (two sacks) and Whit­ney Mer­cilus (one) also have skirted around Solder to wres­tle Brady to the turf. Solder also has al­lowed four quar­ter­back hits this sea­son.

That’s an alarm­ing num­ber for the Pats’ long­est-tenured start­ing line­man. He only gave up five sacks dur­ing the 2016 reg­u­lar sea­son, so the dra­matic spike this month could be traced to the in­jury that wiped out his train­ing camp.

In Solder’s de­fense, he drew a lot of oneon-one as­sign­ments against the Tex­ans be­cause Pats backup right tackle LaA­drian Wad­dle needed help in Mar­cus Can­non’s ab­sence. Wad­dle al­lowed a pair of quar­ter­back hits to J.J. Watt.

Re­ally, everyone has been cul­pa­ble. Thuney hasn’t al­lowed a sack, but his three quar­ter­back hits are tied for the most on the team. All oc­curred against the Tex­ans, with Clowney beat­ing him twice. An­drews al­lowed two sacks, and right guard Shaq Ma­son sur­ren­dered a sack last week. It was the first dis­rup­tion (sack, hit or pres­sure) Ma­son al­lowed all sea­son. Can­non has yielded two sacks and a hit in two games. The group also has com­bined to al­low five pres­sures and get called for four hold­ing penal­ties. The Pa­tri­ots could chalk it up to a run of great com­pe­ti­tion, but they won’t use that ex­cuse.

“You give credit where credit is due, but at the same time, it’s our job to go out there and block them,” An­drews said. “We have to do a bet­ter job of that.”

They’re in search of more con­sis­tency in the run­ning game, too. The Pats are ranked 21st in the league with 3.5 yards per carry, and too many plays have been wasted. They’ve run 18 times for no gain or a loss of yards (ex­clud­ing Brady’s one kneel­down), which is the sixth most in the NFL.

Bill Belichick also lamented Wed­nes­day that the Pats aren’t con­vert­ing on short­yardage sit­u­a­tions. They’ve handed off eight times when they’ve needed a yard to ei­ther score or get a first down, and have made it three times. That’s on the of­fen­sive line as much as the run­ning back.

Dante Scarnec­chia’s group is well aware of their nec­es­sary im­prove­ments to keep their 40-year-old quar­ter­back on his feet and their run­ning backs mov­ing more north than south.

“It’s not al­ways some­one get­ting beat,” An­drews said. “There’s a lot that goes into it — missed as­sign­ments, missed com­mu­ni­ca­tion — and then ob­vi­ously there’s peo­ple get­ting beat. So you just try to learn from that, move for­ward and keep im­prov­ing.”

STAFF PHOTO BY CHRIS CHRISTO

TOUGH CHAL­LENGE TO TACKLE: Nate Solder loosens up be­fore prac­tice yes­ter­day as the Pa­tri­ots pre­pare to host the Carolina Pan­thers to­mor­row at Gil­lette Sta­dium.

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