The New England Patriots’ offensive line has conceded eight sacks in its last two games, and the group is now preparing to face a Baltimore Ravens defensive front that has amassed nine sacks in its last two games.
“Yeah, they’re great. I mean, [Elvis] Dumervil’s got 19 sacks,” said Patriots left guard Dan Connolly in his Tuesday news conference. “They do a great job of getting to the quarterback. We’ve faced a lot of good D-lines this season. That’s nothing new in the NFL, but it’s a lot of pressure on us to do a good job. That’s what we try to do every week. It’s our job to make sure Tom stays upright, so that’s we’re trying to do this week, too.”
The seventh-year Patriots offensive lineman and first-year team captain kept the premise of protecting quarterback Tom Brady a simple one.
“A big thing is communication and working together,” Connolly explained. “I mean, we’re kind of the team within the team. The five of us got to work together on our blocking combinations and things like that. So, being on the same page and working together is always important.”
The five players at the front of New England’s offense have shifted as the season has progressed, however. Rookie Bryan Stork was installed at center by October, and former center Ryan Wendell kicked over to right guard as a byproduct. That interior nucleus settled along the way, yet maintaining communication proved difficult when attrition disconnected it.
Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer missed Week 17 with a back issue. And neck, knee and ankle ailments held Connolly out of the starting lineup for both Week 16 and Week 17. But Vollmer has since returned, and so has the 32-year-old Connolly.
“I’m just excited to be back out practicing,” Connolly said. “I’m going to do my best to work in, and try to get as healthy as I can. But it’s good to be back out.”
When Connolly and New England’s line get back out on the Gillette Stadium field Saturday for the divisional round, there will be a fast front awaiting them. And in the middle of it is Haloti Ngata, a five-time NFL All-Pro nose tackle, just one game back from a four-game suspension.
“Just big, physical, athletic,” Connolly said of the 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata. “For a guy that size to be as athletic as he is, it’s rare. Him and all the guys across the front are great at rushing the passer. Big challenge for us this week.”
The challenge will call upon Connolly and his Patriots counterparts neutralize the pressure from the A-gaps to the edges. And that too is something that’s simple in theory yet complex in practice.
“I think we all got to do our job,” Connolly said. “All I can do is my job, and ask the guys next to me to do their job. We all just depend on each other to do that.”