The New England Patriots take on the Kansas City Chiefs during Monday Night Football at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday, September 29, 2014.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – They threw their rookies into the fire, and for the most part, they didn't get burned.
New England's struggles on offense in the first month of the 2014 season were manifold, but they started with the offensive line. Particularly the interior, where coaches couldn't settle on a starting center and guards for the first three games.
Against the Chiefs Monday night, the Patriots made more much-needed changes, inserting rookie Bryan Stork at center and fellow 2014 draft choice Cameron Fleming at right guard. Co-captain Dan Connolly, who'd played at both center and right guard this season, started at left guard.
Not one, but two rookies, getting their first starts in the loudest venue in the NFL (the Guinness Book of World Records had people on hand to confirm that Arrowhead Stadium won back the decibel level honor from Seattle's CenturyLink Field). Potential for even more disaster, right?
Well, no. In the first half, the o-line and its rookie starters held their own. They didn't allow QB Tom Brady to be pressured or sacked. Brady had plenty of time to throw whenever he dropped back or took the snap from the shotgun. The running game left much to be desired (only 24 yards by intermission), but at least Brady was kept upright. His six incompletions at the break had nothing to do with Chiefs pressure.
Early in the third quarter, Brady was strip sacked and the Chiefs recovered deep in New England territory, but that wasn't the fault of the rookies or the interior. In fact, it was left tackle Nate Solder who was badly beaten by a speed rush from Kansas City d-end Tamba Hali.
And Brady's third- and fourth-quarter INTs? Not the fault of the o-line. He had all the time in the world to find open receivers on both plays. He just made bad throws.
New England, though, wasn't done tinkering with the o-line.
In the fourth quarter, backup center Ryan Wendell relieved Fleming at right guard. And for some reason, New England replaced right tackle Sebastian Vollmer for a series with erstwhile left guard starter Marcus Cannon. Vollmer did not appear injured as he watched the game, helmet in hand, from the sideline, without any medical staff surrounding him.
Late in the third quarter, Cannon took the place of Solder, who returned on the next series. Vollmer, thankfully, was back on the field at the start of the second half. If either Solder or Vollmer were healthy enough to play, they should've been on the field. I've not been impressed with Cannon as either a guard or tackle, although between the two, he's more adept at the latter, I'll give him that much. Perhaps the coaching staff just wanted to get him some reps at his more natural spot in the event of an emergency at either end.
It wasn't perfect. In total, the line surrendered three sacks Monday night. But the o-line was far from the worst of New England's problems in Kansas City.
The fact that the interior, led by the two rookies, managed to acquit itself well in such a hostile environment is encouraging. But it was only one game, and I remain concerned by the fact that it's nearly October and the team is still experimenting with the o-line.