Mankins brings attitude back to Patriots' offensive line

by: Christopher Price on Fri, 12/17/2010 - 12:49am

FOXBORO — It’s difficult to measure the impact of a single offensive lineman — there are no easy go-to stats. But since Logan Mankins returned to the Patriots last month, there’s an undeniable edge to the New England offensive line, and a large portion of that has been provided by the Pro Bowl left guard.

That’s not to suggest Dan Connolly — who was at left guard for the seven games Mankins was sitting out because of a contract dispute — was reluctant to mix it up. It’s just that Mankins has more of a mean streak and a distinct energy that permeates the rest of the Patriots’ offensive line, one that the rest of the offense can feed on.

“I think Logan is really a catalyst for what we do up there. He’s a great player for us. He’s tough, he’s physical, he brings really a mean spirit to the group,” said quarterback Tom Brady. “Logan plays until the echo of the whistle. It goes right up to the end, so he’s always in the middle of some altercation or something like that. If there’s a pile up, I know Logan’s involved. That’s just how he plays. That’s his style, and I think he brings a great element of toughness to our offense.”

Mankins has drawn just one penalty this season — he was whistled for a chop block — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t flashing that physical style. In wins over the Steelers and Lions, there was more than a little pushing and shoving after the whistle, and, inevitably, when the bodies were cleared off the pile, Mankins was usually the one doling out the punishment.

Mankins’ attitude — playing “until the echo of the whistle” — is an approach Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to see.

“Our job is to go out there and play from snap to whistle, but I know that there’s stuff that goes on after the play at times,” Belichick said. “And I think, as a team, you have to be able to stand up to that, not at the expense of getting penalties and personal fouls and all that, but to hold your ground and be able to play the game and not get pushed around out there — to be competitive and not get pushed around.”

Mankins has been mostly out-of-sight since he returned, talking with the media on rare occasions during the week in the locker room. However, linemate Matt Light is more than happy to talk up his accomplishments and what he brings to the table.

“Logan's a phenomenal teammate, a great player,” said left tackle Matt Light. “A Pro Bowl, All-Pro type of guy. You want that guy standing next to you.”

While no individual numbers are available to say just how valuable an offensive lineman really is, since Mankins’ return, New England has cut down on the number of negative plays: In the six games since Mankins’ returned, the Patriots’ offense has run 375 plays from scrimmage, and not including kneel downs, have had negative yards on only 16 occasions, a rate of four percent. In the seven games New England played without Mankins, the Patriots ran 425 plays from scrimmage and came away with 26 negative plays, a rate of 6 percent.

In addition, in the seven games without Mankins, the Patriots yielded 15 sacks. In the six games since Mankins' return, the Patriots have allowed only six sacks.

Of course, those numbers aren’t just on the return of Mankins. They reflect an offensive line that appears to be hitting its’ stride at the right time. STATS Inc. has just released a new statistic that looks at offensive line protection and takes into account the length of the teams pass attempts combined with penalties for offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns. Called the New York Life Protection Index, the Patriots’ offensive line is ranked fifth with a protection index of 74.4, trailing only Indianapolis, New Orleans, the New York Giants and Atlanta.

“I think overall, we're playing pretty well together,” said Light of the offensive line. “I think we all trust each other and the guys next to us.”

“We haven’t had a lot of missed assignments,” Belichick said of the offensive line play as of late. “You don’t see a lot of guys running through the line of scrimmage unblocked, bearing down on the quarterback. Usually we have a hat on everybody and they’re picked up.

“Sometimes, technique-wise, we get beat, but we haven’t had a lot of missed assignments, and I think that’s really a credit to those guys individually preparing but also working together, making sure that they’re all seeing the same picture and making the same reads. [Offensive line coach] Dante [Scarnecchia] does a great job with that group and gets all five guys to play as one. That’s really what offensive-line play is about.”