Inside the numbers: Week 8
No matter who's playing, Patriots' OL has been dominant over the last few years
Longtime assistant Dante Scarnecchia can be credited with the unit's success
Pats should become the second team ever with three straight 500-point seasons
The Fab Five rocked London on Sunday.
Their names were Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer.
They're the offensive line for the New England Patriots -- or at least the most recent version of it -- well-oiled cogs in the closest thing to an OL dynasty in football today. And they're fresh off the most dominant victory in the trenches of Europe since the U.S. Marine Corps charged into Belleau Wood in 1918.
The Patriots manhandled a very good, young and talented defensive front from St. Louis, powering New England's 45-7 victory at Wembley Stadium. It was the biggest blowout in a Week 8 slate filled with them. In fact, it was the second biggest blowout of 2012 (San Francisco beat Buffalo 45-3 in Week 5).
New England's top offensive lineman, guard Logan Mankins, didn't even dress. He's battling a hip injury.
The Patriots and their incredible inter-changeable OL entered the St. Louis game already No. 1 on the Cold, Hard Football Facts Offensive Hog Index, which we use to rank every offensive line in football.
But you might say they're getting so much better all the time: They merely re-asserted their dominance on Sunday and did so in dramatic fashion.
The Offensive Hog Index sizes up each NFL front based upon three key skills: ability to run the ball, as measured by average per attempt; ability to protect the passer, as measured by percentage of dropbacks that end in a Negative Pass Play (sack or INT); and ability to convert third downs.
The Patriots were dominant in all three phases Sunday. They:
Ran the ball 28 times for 152 yards, an average of 5.4 YPA.
Did not allow a single Negative Pass Play in 38 dropbacks; in fact, the Rams barely laid a hand on Tom Brady.
Converted 7 of 12 third downs (58.3 percent), while adding another 1 of 1 on fourth down -- a will-enforcing 4th-and-goal plunge from the 1 by Shane Vareen early in the second quarter.
The Rams were not a Big 12-style defensive patsy, either. St. Louis entered the game with a cast of young star defenders, such as defensive end Chris Long and linebacker James Lauriniatis, and had given up just 20.1 PPG.
But these young stars suffered a hard day's night in the face of the New England onslaught.
The Rams were pushed all over the field by the Patriots, and as a result tumbled seven spots on the Defensive Hog Index in the space of one game, all the way from No. 6 to No. 13.
"I don't know what happened," Laurinaitis told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "A lot of things steamrolled against us."
Laurinaitis' Rams are not the first unit to feel like it was steamrolled by New England's dynastic and largely anonymous offensive line.
Tip your cap to Dante Scarnecchia. The long-time New England assistant has survived one coaching administration after another for two decades and has handled the offensive line since the Pete Carroll era.
He's survived because he produces results. His units have largely dominated since New England's record-setting offensive season of 2007.
New England Patriots Offensive Hog Index rank (2007-present):
It's worth noting that the Patriots led the NFL scoring in 2007 (589 points) and 2010 (518), and top the NFL again here in 2012, with 262 points through eight games. New England also scored 513 points in 2011.
So the Patriots have a very good chance to tie the "Greatest Show in Turf" Rams with 500+ plus points scored in three straight seasons. They would also become the first NFL franchise to score 500 points in four different seasons.
Clearly Brady, with his quick release and command of defenses, helps any offensive line look more dominant. But keep in mind the Patriots were still a Top 10 OL in 2008, the year that untested Matt Cassel ran the offense.
The 2012 offensive line is the best of the bunch, at least according to the Offensive Hog Index. It's the only New England unit during this period of dynastic dominance to place in the top 10 in all three phases of the indicator: running the football, protecting the passer and converting third downs.
Most impressive is the way Scarnecchia's unit keeps humming along no matter who he puts in there.
The name of the Cold, Hard Football Facts Offensive Hog Index, for example, was inspired by the great Washington Redskins Hogs of the early 1980s.
That famous unit consistently fielded the same personnel. Football fans of a certain age can easily rattle off all five Hogs today: massive left tackle Joe Jacoby, Hall of Fame guard Russ Grimm, center Jeff Bostic, Outland Trophy-winning blue chipper Mark May and longtime Redskins veteran right tackle George Starke.
The Patriots seem to roll out a new front five year to year and even week to week. Only two of the starting five that beat up the Rams on Sunday started for the Patriots in the Super Bowl against the Giants in February (Connolly, Vollmer).
New England was hammered with losses on the offensive line since that day.
Longtime left tackle Matt Light retired in the offseason. Brian Waters started at right guard in the Super Bowl but surprised the Patriots when he decided not to show up for camp this year. Dan Koppen, a longtime stalwart at center who battled injury last year, signed with the Broncos and is now snapping the ball to Peyton Manning. Mankins started at left guard in the Super Bowl, but has missed three games this year.
For Scarnechhia, replacing those players was no more complex than fixing a hole.
Among Sunday's starters, only left tackle Solder is a blue-chipper. He was the No. 17 overall pick in the 2011 draft. Vollmer was considered a reach when he was grabbed by the Patriots with the No. 58 overall pick in the 2009 draft out of Houston, by way of famed high school football power Quirinus Gymnasium of Kaarst, Germany.
Donald Thomas was drafted by the Dolphins in the sixth round out of UConn in 2008. He had started one game in his previous two seasons before this year with the Patriots. Wendell was an undrafted free agent out of Fresno State in 2008 and has started all eight games this year. And Connolly, who played for Southeast Missouri State, was an undrafted free agent who signed with the Jaguars in 2005. He did not start an NFL game until the Patriots gave him a shot in 2009.
The names and faces change and largely ever impress on their own. But one thing remains the same year after year: the Patriots' offensive line will come together as the most dominant unit in football.
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