LaAdrian Waddle” width=”820″ height=”564″ />
The Patriots completely dominated the Broncos on Sunday night to the tune of a 41-16 drubbing that essentially eliminated Denver from playoff contention after just nine weeks (!). Throughout the week, heavy emphasis was placed on Brady’s return to Mile High Stadium, his personal “House of Horrors”, a stadium in which he is just 3-7 lifetime. However, Brady shredded the Broncos vaunted defense, throwing for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the blowout, thanks in large part to the play of his offensive line, who had another stellar game overall on Sunday night.
Brady was sacked just once against the Broncos, a play in which James White could not pick up the blitzing Justin Simmons, and Brady was only three times all night, a remarkable achievement when playing against one of the best pass-rushers in recent memory without your starting right tackle. Brady was hit on just 11.4% of his drop backs, which is a great rate when considering the percentage Brady has been hit in previous games in Denver.
For those that haven’t blocked the game out entirely, recent memory harkens one back to the 2016 AFC Championship Game in Denver, in which the offensive line performed about as bad as humanly possible, and Brady was hit on an absurd 28.3% (shoutout Atlanta) of his drop backs, including four sacks and an astounding 13 QB hits. In the regular season meeting between the two teams in Denver in 2015, Brady was hit on 20% of his drop backs, and was sacked three times. After recalling performances like these, it’s even more remarkable just how well the Patriots offensive line was able to play Sunday night in Mile High.
While the unit struggled mightily at the beginning of the season, they have allowed just 1.5 sacks per game in the last four games, compared to the 2.7 sacks per game allowed in the first six weeks. The unit is no longer a glaring weakness, and after shutting down the Broncos front seven in the manner they did Sunday night, it is easy to have confidence in the group going forward, particularly if players like LaAdrian Waddle can perform at such a high level. Waddle, filling in for the injured Marcus Cannon, matched against Von Miller all night, and allowed just one QB hit. According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, Waddle has allowed just three QB hits in the three games he has been forced into either starting or play considerable minutes (Houston, Los Angeles, and Denver), and has yet to yield a pressure or a sack.
Waddle’s play is so crucial because losing a starting tackle for a extended amount of time appeared to be one of the biggest potential losses for this team. However, Waddle has demonstrated the ability to fill in admirably, easing concerns about the lack of depth at tackle. And with both Waddle and Solder being free agents this offseason, it makes one wonder if the Patriots will opt to resign the younger (and significantly cheaper) Waddle, opposed to inking Solder to a new contract. This potential scenario mirrors the situation when Marcus Cannon gained his starting role, in which he transitioned from the backup swing tackle to a starting role, surpassing the incumbent Sebastian Vollmer (granted, Cannon initially got the starting job because Vollmer was sent to IR, not because he was allowed to walk in free agency, but the point still applies).
The Patriots offensive line will face another one of the NFL’s premier pass rushers on Sunday, as they take on Khalil Mack and the Raiders in Mexico City. Despite this, look for the unit to continue to excel in pass protection, as the Raiders rank 31st in the NFL in sacks with just 13.