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NFL WEEK 1 MVP? DANTE SCARNECCHIA, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas – Who? Well, if you are a real football fan and/or follow the New England Patriots closely, you know the answer to the question, who is Dante Scarnecchia? He’s a Patriots legend who has been a coach with the Patriots since 1982 (except for the last two years in “retirement” and for two other years (1989-90) as the Colts offensive line coach). Scarnecchia made the “tough decision” (his words) to come out of retirement to coach the Patriots offensive line this season (he was also named assistant head coach).

Virtually all attention was on the fact that there would be no Brady, no Gronk and no Ninkovich against Arizona. The important fact that the Patriots were starting (to be kind) a mix-and-match offensive line was overlooked by most “experts.”

Enter (or re-enter) Dante Scarnecchia. With the Arizona Cardinals rising to a 7-point favorite at home, and with even most Patriot fans putting this one in the loss column against a well-rounded (both sides of the ball), potential Super Bowl team (you know, maybe we can go 2-2 or, after the loss to the Cardinals, 3-1), it seemed bleak against Arizona. Yet, somehow, the Patriots got the unlikely week 1 win.

Let’s look at the line by positions:

THE TACKLES

Well, the Patriots are actually set at tackle with Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Wait, Solder’s hurt and Vollmer will miss at least six games, maybe more? Uh-oh. So the Patriots had to start Cameron Fleming at left tackle and Marcus Cannon at right tackle.

Cameron Fleming, having the important role to protect the blind side of first-time starter Jimmy Garoppolo, is a third-year player out of Stanford. In 2015, he was actually cut before the season started, signed to the practice squad after he cleared waivers and wound up playing a lot the second half of the season due to injuries.

When NBC showed the starting line-ups, they included the (pretty well-respected) Pro Football Focus rankings for each player. The PFF ranking for Fleming from last year was 29th (i.e., awful).

Marcus Cannon has been a Patriots enigma. The Patriots obviously believe he has a lot of ability and gave him a two-year, $9 million contract extension in December 2014. Yet, he hasn’t really played very well. His PFF ranking from last year was 27th (also pretty bad).

THE GUARDS

Well, the Patriots should be able to start a couple of guards with NFL experience. Wait, they are starting two rookies? The Patriots started right guard Joe Thuney and left guard Ted Karras.

Thuney was a third-round pick this year (78th overall) out of North Carolina State. His 2015 PFF ranking was an excellent fourth in the country. Of course, that was a college guard ranking. He did, by virtually all accounts, have an excellent training camp.

Karras was a sixth-round pick this year (221st overall) out of Illinois. His 2015 PFF ranking was 25th. But, again, that was a college ranking.

THE CENTER

Well, the Patriots should be OK at center with Bryan Stork, who was given his job back last year by former offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo after then-rookie David Andrews had filled in admirably as the Patriots started 10-0. Wait, the Patriots released Stork in late August, paving the way for hard-working Andrews to be the starting center?

Andrews was an undrafted free agent signee last season who worked incredibly hard in the off-season and is getting in-season coaching for the first-time from the one and only Dante Scarnecchia.

His 2015 PFF ranking was 20th, and that would be one I would quibble with.

Scarnecchia molded this line into a unit that played well enough to give the Patriots a chance to win. (For an excellent article (especially if you like line play) on the differences between Scarnecchia and last year’s offensive line coach, read Rich Hill’s article from May 19, 2016 at patspulpit.com).

CONCLUSIONS

With a better than average line performance (no, they weren’t great), along with Garoppolo’s coolness under pressure (no matter what Merrill Hoge’s negative comments were about his pre-season play), the Patriots won what was viewed by most to be a sure loss.

Yes, the Patriots rushing game will have to improve (106 yards against the Arizona defense isn’t bad) and allowing two sacks with a mobile QB is OK, but the defense is more than legit (although one can argue that the best defensive player on the field was Chandler Jones) and, when Tom Brady gets back, he’ll be able to make all those short but incredible timing throws that can replace a running game if it’s not working.

So, is Dante Scarnecchia the NFL MVP for week 1? It says here yes, he is.

And, is the return of Dante Scarnecchia a possible key factor in the Patriots getting back to, and winning, the Super Bowl, especially when one or maybe both tackles return?

Absolutely, positively, yes.

© Copyright 2016 by Steve Kallas. All rights reserved.

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