FOXBOROUGH — Protecting Jacoby Brissett has been Joe Thuney’s business for some time now — first at North Carolina State and now with the Patriots. Before last Thursday, however, doing it for an entire NFL game — often against J.J. Watt — hadn’t been part of the deal.
Watt had lined up over the right side of the Patriots offensive line, mostly against tackle Marcus Cannon, for much of the game. On the play that led to Brissett’s touchdown run, however, Watt lined up over Thuney on the left side.
Brissett play-faked to LeGarrette Blount, and Watt bit further left, taking himself out of the equation as Brissett ran right.
“I don’t think Watt had any shot at all, not on that play,” said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “He was on the other side of the ball.”
Watt was likely hampered by his lingering back injury, but “no shot at all” isn’t something that can often be said for the NFL’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year. It’s hard to blame Watt for buying Brissett’s fake, however, given how often Blount had been running in that direction during the game.
Since Nate Solder returned at left tackle, he and Thuney at left guard have created a wall for Blount to run behind, something Thuney said was due to good communication.
“It starts at the beginning of the week, talking through plays and what we’re going to do against different looks, so always trying to stay on the same page and just being aware of what each other’s doing,” Thuney said.
“It goes down the whole line, we’re all talking, communicating the whole time. It just starts early, early in the week and hopefully it shows on Sunday.”
Blount’s runs, on average, have been longer when going to the left side, and the difference going that way, as opposed to up the middle or to the right, has become more pronounced with each game.
Blount’s average gain running left was 4.5 yards against the Cardinals, when Cameron Fleming filled in for Solder, but those rushes accounted for just 18 of his 70 total yards.
Against Miami, when Solder played 81 percent of the offensive snaps, Blount gained 5.08 yards per carry and a total of 61 yards when rushing left. By comparison, he gained 29 yards on 3.22 yards per carry up the middle and 33 yards on 4.125 yards per carry rushing right in that game.
“Hopefully we can continue to get him the ball with some momentum, some space, and give him an opportunity to do some things on his own and not have to deal with four or five guys there at the line of scrimmage but try to get him going,” Belichick said.
With Solder and Thuney in for every offensive snap of the Houston game, Blount rushed almost exclusively behind them. He gained 95 yards out of 105 total on runs to the left, where he averaged 6.33 yards per carry. He averaged 1.11 yards per carry running anywhere else.
Like David Andrews, the center who started 11 games as a rookie last season, Thuney is a young player who has fit in quickly on the interior. Though a lack of continuity and experience hurt the group in 2015, Solder said that everyone on the line has done a good job of getting up to speed and learning to play together quickly.
“We’re all coached the same way, to see the game through the same set of eyes, and the more that we can see the game that way, communication becomes a lot easier when you’re all seeing the game the same way,” Solder said.
Thuney’s youth and inexperience have been reflected in one area: penalties. The rookie had two holding calls against the Dolphins and a false start against the Texans. Thuney said the penalties were a mental thing.
“I think I can shore up on that and do a better job of being more disciplined and trying to eliminate those kind of plays,” he said.
As far as playing alongside Solder, Thuney said it’s been great.
“You know what you can expect from him,” he said.
More and more, the same can be said for Thuney as well.