New England historically has a difficult time playing against the Dolphins in Miami, and last weekend's regular season opener was no exception. The Patriots surrendered four sacks of QB Tom Brady last weekend in Miami. It's tough to win games in the NFL with numbers like those.
The starting offensive line featured new starting left guard Marcus Cannon, Dan Connolly at center, and Jordan Devey at right guard, where Connolly normally plays. Throughout the first half, that interior unit often shifted to allow Connolly to play right guard at times, with former starting center Ryan Wendell getting reps in his old spot.
In the second half, the staring unit played most of the snaps, but that was when Brady was being brought down the most.
Check out photos of Patriots practice and media access leading up to New England's week two game against the Minnesota Vikings.
This week in practice, the o-line is trying to correct its errors.
"Yeah, I think it's a lot of basic stuff," remarked left tackle Nate Solder. "A lot of stuff we know how to do and can improve."
"Just putting the last game behind us and moving on, going out and practicing hard every day," added Connolly.
It was strange to see the offensive line being shuffled so frequently, as that's one of the areas on a football team that relies so heavily on consistency of personnel for its productivity. When there are variables, communication can suffer, resulting in missed blocks and assignments and, ultimately, sacks of the quarterback.
Connolly didn't believe that was the case against Miami, although he acknowledged that was certainly room for improvement.
"I think it was pretty good," Connolly said of the overall communication among the linemen. "I was the guy moving. I knew my job at both spots and focused on that. I'm looking at the same thing the center's looking at. Center's a little more vocal, to get everyone on the same page.
"There's definitely a chemistry involved, but I think we do a good job here of rotating guys through and building a chemistry with multiple groups. Not just playing with five guys at practice and throwing someone in there and there's confusion. I think we're ready when other guys come in the game.
"I always prepare myself to play anywhere. It's kind of what I've done throughout my career. You never know who's going to get hurt, or if someone's going to get hurt. You have to move guys around. Somebody's always got to be ready.
A breakdown in fundamental technique was also partly to blame for the failures against Miami's front seven, according to Solder.
"It's a combination, because they're very good players, so, that made it tough on us when we didn't use the proper techniques."
Solder and his o-line colleagues need to correct their mistakes in a hurry, because the Minnesota Vikings feature a formidable front as well, with defensive end Everson Griffen leading the way.
"You've got a big, physical front. Several veteran guys that really know what they're doing and can make a lot of disturbances. [Griffen] had a pretty good game last week. He's got some good power moves, some good inside moves."
Back to work
In pre-practice remarks to the media, Brady noted that when the Patriots lose, the players' "quality of life" suffers the next week.
Running back Shane Vereen offered a knowing laugh when this was brought to his attention in the locker room after Wednesday's practice. The mood at practice, however, seemed very business-like when the media was allowed to observe.
"Everybody's good, back to work, ready to go, and looking forward to Sunday," said Vereen. "After we were done with the [Miami] film, we were done with it.
"Got to get to work. Got to practice well this week. Got to have a good game plan, go in there on Sunday and execute."
A man's home is his Cassel
The Patriots will pay a rare visit to Minnesota Sunday, where former Brady backup Matt Cassel is now starting QB.
Cassel spoke glowing Wednesday of his years in New England.
"I constantly refer back to some of the things that I learned in New England and throughout my career. It was a great stepping stone, and it also gave me time to mature as a player and as a quarterback. I got to learn from one of the best in the game to ever play the game in Tom [Brady], and he was such a great mentor to me. Not only that, but the way that they prepared, the attitude they had, the way they went about their business – I really carried that to every place that I've gone."
When Brady went down with a knee injury in the 2008 season opener, Cassel guided the Patriots to 11 wins, just short of making the playoffs. That season gave the former USC backup the confidence to start first for Kansas City the following year, then the Vikings later.
"I think that everybody was skeptical – probably even to a point myself – when I first got the nod and got the opportunity because I hadn't started a game since high school. But at the same time, I knew through my preparation and also working diligently throughout the course of the week and also over the years that I had the ability to do it. Then it was just a process of getting out there and getting the game time action.
"I think they also do a great job of preparing their backups," added the 10-year veteran, "because throughout preseason I would always play. I would always start that fourth preseason game. I felt good about where I was in terms of knowledge of the offense, and then they put me in a position to be successful, and the guys did a great job around me."
"He's always been one of my great friends. He's just a special guy, special friend. We're great buddies. I'm so happy for him for what he's been able to accomplish," Brady said, adding with a grin, "but I hope we beat him up this week. It's just the way it goes."
There was perfect attendance at Patriots practice Wednesday, and relatively good news on the injury report afterward. Brady and his calf injury were removed, although Wendell was added with a knee injury that limited his participation.
The Patriots also made a change to their practice squad, releasing QB McLeod Bethel-Thompson and signing first-year defensive end Cameron Henderson.