How does the absence of left guard Logan Mankins affect what the Patriots can do in the run game?
Mankins' absence is substantial. He is one of the best guards in the NFL and brings a rugged attitude and presence to a very good offensive line. He and center Dan Koppen are the best players on this line and have been cornerstones during the Patriots’ excellent run over the past few seasons.
New England has a decent backup plan in place if it ends up without Mankins. Former starting right tackle Nick Kaczur has moved to Mankins’ guard spot and second-year offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer inherited the right tackle vacancy. Vollmer is very promising and should be an upgrade over Kaczur on the edge. In fact, it probably will not be long before Vollmer is entrenched as Tom Brady’s blind-side protector at left tackle. Vollmer was excellent this past season in protection and moving bodies in the run game.
But Kaczur is now suffering through a significant back injury and his status is uncertain. Now, the cupboards appear rather bare and surely Mankins’ stand for a new contract has gotten stronger with Kaczur’s injury. But assuming New England does not budge with the contract talks, how will this hole in the line affect this run game?
You can’t discuss the Patriots’ run game without first talking about the passing attack, as New England often operates out of the shotgun and with predominantly passing personnel groupings on the field in any down and distance. This is an extremely well-coached line and much like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, Brady’s ability to see the rush and maneuver within the confines of the pocket often makes the protection appear better than it truly is.
But because of this excellent overall protection and an elite passing game, New England can exploit favorable numbers in the box in the run game and also is very adept at calling timely runs to keep defenses honest and off balance. Again, this makes the line’s job collectively a little easier. That’s what having an all-time great player such as Brady can do for an offense.
The remaining options for the left guard spot feature a list of no names, with Dan Connolly as the leading candidate for promotion. Also, don’t forget that right guard Stephen Neal has an extensive injury history. Connolly did well enough in Neal’s place last year.
Mankins on board certainly still would not be a bad idea, of course. He is an exceptional player and is missed. But the Patriots’ coaching staff has been exceptional at developing offensive linemen -- Neal is the perfect example -- and mixed with the system and strong supporting cast, don’t expect a massive drop in production up front.