The Secret To Their Success

Yes Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth have invigorated the Patriots offense in 2007. But there's a little talked about secret to all that success, and it comes from the most unheralded of positions.

Through the first three games of 2007, the numbers put up by the new-look New England offense are impressive. Tom Brady has completed nearly 80 percent of his passes. Randy Moss has set a new NFL record for receiving with three consecutive 100-yard games. Laurence Maroney and the ground game have churned out almost 455 yards and a 4.3-yard average. As a unit, points are coming seemingly as easy as they have often with the team scoring exactly 38 points in each of its three blowout victories.

Somewhat lost in the explosive action from the skill players is the impressive work taking place in the trenches. Battling a Chargers front seven that's supposed to be as talented as any, a Jets defense that came together as a top unit over the second half of last season and a Bills brigade that brings a speed-based defensive line that can cause problems, New England's offensive line kicked off the new season the way it closed out last January -- playing good, solid football.

Seeing the group put up three consecutive impressive performances shouldn't be a surprise, though. At this point in the line's evolution it should be a weekly expectation. Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia's troop is made up of young, experienced, talented players the team has committed money and draft picks to in recent years. The production this September is a result of plenty of blood, sweat and Scarnecchia-induced practice tears.

"Obviously it all comes together with time at our position. That's the most important thing that everybody looks for," right tackle Nick Kaczur surmised. "Every team tries to get guys together for a while. So we're lucky to have that and now we're starting to gel."

It's not just the starters that have been together, either. While Matt Light, Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Stephen Neal and Kaczur have been together from left to right across the line as a group for a couple years, the continuity continues to the reserves. With Neal sidelined against San Diego with a shoulder issue, Billy Yates got the call at right guard and the change was barely a blip on the offense's radar. Even in that game, when Yates also got banged up with a shoulder injury, Russ Hochstein similarly stepped in seamlessly. Last week's balanced win over the Bills saw Hochstein go the entire way with nary a notice.

Add in experienced second-year backup tackles Ryan O'Callaghan and Wesley Britt and the group goes nine deep on the depth chart. Veteran tight end Kyle Brady -- who Belichick once described as a third tackle when he was with Jacksonville -- also deserves inclusion in the line conversation and the success the group has had in the early going. He's only been a part of the mix for a few games, but Brady doesn't think the impressive play up front is any accident.

"They seem like a mature, well-coached group that communicates well. That's something that's always a positive on the offensive line," Brady said. "There needs to be positive communication. They seem to have a good feel and understanding of one another as far how they are approaching their blocks and schemes and things like that. You can see why they've had success here."

In the past that success has come in inconsistent spurts. It was a game or two here and there. That's part of the process of building a unit as it works together, especially when the group is made up of mostly mid- and later round picks. Or in Neal's case, a guy who never played college football.

But don't expect the recent success to go to this group's collective head. Even if there were a hint of that, Scarnecchia would snuff it out quicker than a Jason Taylor pass rush.

At this point the line is just enjoying winning, working and playing its part on what could be the best offense Patriots Nation has seen in years.

"We haven't played perfect but we've played good enough to win in this league and hopefully we can continue that," Mankins said. "I'm sure it could get worse but it should keep going up. We are getting more comfortable right now. You get into the groove of the season and you start to play better. We're pretty excited about what's happening. Hopefully we can all stay healthy and keep it rolling."

The group also doesn't mind if people aren't noticing the bulk of the work they're doing in light of the focus on the playmakers that fill out the Patriots offense. In fact they're enjoying the same playmaking show as everyone else.

"We're not worried about (attention). We're just worried about winning games. That's the mentality of most linemen, they just want to win the game," Mankins said. "Whenever we make big plays, like Randy's touchdowns have been pretty big plays, that's pretty exciting for us. It makes it a lot easier than going three yards at a time."

Notes:

--QB Tom Brady has completed 79.5 percent of his passes (70-of-88) through three games working with the Patriots talented new group of receivers. By comparison, Brady's first three week's completions percentages last season were 47.8, 51.7 and 56.4 respectively. Brady didn't surpass the 60-percent mark until the sixth game of the season. Brady's best single season completion percentage to date was a 63.9 mark in his first year as a starter in 2001 when he led that team's short passing attack.
--RB Laurence Maroney recorded his second career 100-yard game with 103 yards on 19 carries (5.4) in the blowout of the Bills. The second-year starter leads New England with 252 yards on 54 carries (4.7 avg.) through three games.
--TE Benjamin Watson has scored a touchdown in each of New England's first three games of the season, including an 8-yarder score in the win over the Bills. Watson has already matched his three touchdowns from a year ago and needs only one more to tie his career-high of four from 2005.
--WR Randy Moss' 22 catches for 403 yards and five scores to open his New England career have him on a pace that would shatter receiving records in New England over a full 16-game schedule. If he is able to sustain his current pace, Moss would finish with 117 catches for 2,149 yards with 27 touchdowns.
--WR Wes Welker has nearly kept pace with Moss in terms of catches in his first three games with his new team. Welker ranks second on the Patriots with 20 catches for 221 yards and a score.
--SS James Sanders continues to be relatively solid filling in for suspended starter Rodney Harrison. Sanders had six tackles against Buffalo, although running back Marshawn Lynch did run through the third-year safety on the Bills only touchdown of the day. In three games Sanders has 14 tackles.
--LB Adalius Thomas led New England with nine tackles against the Bills, adding a quarterback hit and a pass defense to his stat line. Thomas appears to be getting more comfortable by the week the new scheme and his new role at inside linebacker.
--DL Jarvis Green has three sacks on the season in three games starting in place of Richard Seymour. Green recorded four tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery on teammates Ellis Hobbs' strip-sack in Sundays' win over Buffalo.
--P Chris Hanson's has only punted four times on the season for a 36.5 average and dismal 31.5-yard net but Bill Belichick has said that Hanson has done a better job than the numbers might imply as he's successfully fulfilled the directional kicking duties the coaches have ask for. "I think that Chris has done a good job," Belichick said of Hanson's most recent performance. "He’s done a real good job for us. That’s not just in the regular season games, but the preseason games, the practice situations. I think he’s done a good job and I’m glad that we have him."
--NT Vince Wilfork was penalized for a low hit on Bills starter J.P. Losman that sent the quarterback to the sideline with a knee injury. Wilfork has said there was no intent to injury Losman on the play, but concedes that he expects to be fined by the league for the questionable hit.

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