|Dante Scarnecchia the American football offensive line coach and assistant|
head coach for the New England Patriots
After rushing for over 200 yards in each of their last two games, the New England Patriots offense has suddenly turned into the juggernaut it promised to be all off-season. Yet, even though the end result appears to be the same, the journey towards domination of opposing defenses was much different to what the team's fanbase was prepared for.
Very few people predicted that Stevan Ridley would turn into a bell-cow back. Even fewer expected Brandon Bolden to become a star alongside him. Ryan Wendell wasn't even originally in contention to be a starter entering training camp, never mind become a key component of the offensive line. The loss of Aaron Hernandez was supposed to slow them up, while Brandon Lloyd was supposed to be the big difference maker.
Instead of relying on Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots established dominance in the past two games by relying heavily on the running game as well as the previously outcasted Wes Welker. Welker has 22 receptions and 233 yards the past two weeks, while Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden have accounted for 448 yards on 80 carries.
The idea that the Patriots would commit to 80 carries, not including the other nine carries that went to Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen, in two weeks is almost unfathomable. It would have been plausible to think the Patriots would make use of their backs to help their offensive line that was expected to be in transition, but that has not been the case. Instead the Patriots have relied on the running game to wear down defenses before continuing to run on them and putting the game away on the ground.
Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski have both chipped in with touchdowns, in the past two games, but their overall contributions have been those of bit-part players. The duo are aiding the team dramatically by causing matchup problems pre-snap, but the rushing attack still has to deal with the front seven on its own.
While the Patriots' offensive pieces will always receive a huge amount of credit, especially those at the skill positions, the man most responsible for the offense's rise to prominence in recent weeks is Dante Scarnecchia.
Now, don't go reading and re-reading the depth chart to find out what position Scarnecchia plays and wondering why you have never heard of him before. Instead cast your eye over the coaching staff. Generally when the Patriots' coaching staff is referred to, the praise begins and ends with Bill Belichick. If not Belichick, then Josh MacDaniels likely gets most of the credit for the offense's production. Often overlooked is the contribution of Scarnecchia, who is the team's offensive line coach.
Scarnecchia has been in charge of the Patriots offensive line since 1999. During that time he has repeatedly churned out one of the best offensive lines in the NFL on a year-to-year basis. Scarnecchia's unit has been vital in the development of Tom Brady and remain a pivotal part of his production today.
Rarely ever under Scarnecchia's name has the Patriots offensive line been a problem. Often his units are overlooked as the media is focused on the quarterback, as with 99 percent of football followers, but never once have there been rumblings about Scarnecchia's position with the team or has the performance of the Patriots' offensive line received national attention the way the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles' groups are currently.
Having worked with stalwarts on the line such as Dan Koppen, Logan Mankins and Matt Light over the years, Scarnecchia faced a different challenge this season working with unproven youngsters. Mankins remained, but he was coming off of a significant injury. Koppen did too, but he was released in training camp. Veteran Brian Waters was a plug in and play guard, but he chose retirement over reporting to the team. Robert Gallery, another veteran, was signed in the off-season to compete to start, but he also chose to retire instead of reporting to the team.
That left Scarnecchia dealing with first time full-time starter at left tackle, Nate Solder, an uncertain veteran at left guard, Mankins, a brand new center, Ryan Wendell, a guard come center come guard at right guard, Dan Connolly, and a right tackle with chronic back issues, Sebastien Vollmer. Despite all those question marks, and the loss of Mankins to a hip issue against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots' offensive line hasn't deviated from their expected level of performance.
Brady's protection has continued to be excellent, while Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley have benefited largely from the blocking of the unit upfront. If there had been any individual struggles in performance or a lack of congruency between each participant upfront, the Patriots' running game would have stalled often while Brady would not be able to function under pressure.
Instead of constantly worrying about the Patriots' pass protection and running game, or having to work around them like the Pittsburgh Steelers and Atlanta Falcons do, fans of the team can completely ignore the group and unknowingly sit back to enjoy their work. That's the greatest compliment for an offensive line and the coach, don't notice them.
The best offensive lineman in the NFL right now is most likely Duane Brown, the number of people who know him or what team he plays for is likely very small. The same can be said about Scarnecchia. You see while you might be embarressed, nonplussed or even frustrated that you didn't know who Scarnecchia was, he'll be absolutely delighted. Because that means he is doing his job.
And he's doing it perfectly.