Brady, Hanie a tale of two QBs in New York Life Protection
NORTHBROOK, Ill. (STATS) - Tom Brady's experience makes it easier for
the New England Patriots to overcome injuries on their offensive line
and still put up big numbers.
With only two starts under center, Caleb Hanie hasn't demonstrated the
skills that could help the Chicago Bears' woeful line cover up its
Week 13 proved to be a tale of two quarterbacks in the New York Life
Protection Index as the Patriots graded out a league-best 98.0 after
defeating winless Indianapolis 31-24, while the battered Bears pulled
up the rear with a minus-2.7 in their 10-3 loss to Kansas City.
The NYLPI is a proprietary formula created by STATS LLC which measures
pass protection by using metrics such as length of passes, penalties by
offensive linemen, sacks allowed and quarterback hurries and knockdowns.
New England has been shuffling players on its offensive line since its
opener, when it lost center Dan Koppen to a season-ending ankle injury.
His replacement, Dan Connolly, has missed the last two games with a bad
groin, forcing Nick McDonald to make his first NFL start Sunday. Right
tackle Sebastian Vollmer and center Ryan Wendell were also out.
The lack of continuity has done little to slow down Brady, who
continued his December dominance by throwing for 289 yards and two
touchdowns against the Colts to improve to 34-5 in his career during
Caleb Hanie (USPresswire/Rob Grabowski)
It certainly helped that despite the line being shorthanded, Brady
stayed upright. He was sacked once and only knocked down twice. Coach
Bill Belichick said it shows how deep the Patriots talent is.
"We always give everybody an opportunity to compete," said Belichick,
who added that he was pleased with McDonald's first start. "The guys
that do the best get more opportunities."
New England has graded out 90.0 or better in the NYLPI in three of the
last five weeks and moved up to second in the league for the season at
77.8, trailing only New Orleans at 86.5.
Perhaps facing its decade-long archrival helped Indianapolis up its own
game as well. The Colts tried to rally against New England before
ultimately coming up short again. Still, they posted a 78.7 mark with
Dan Orlovsky under center - their best since Week 6.
While he was sacked twice and knocked down five times, Orlovsky still
managed to get comfortable enough to pass for 353 yards - a season-high
242 of which were in the air.
"They kept me clean and gave me time to try and do what I could do,"
The Patriots took advantage of what had been a punchless opponent, but
facing a struggling team provided no relief for the Bears.
Headlined by the strong play of Jay Cutler, the Bears' much-maligned
offensive line had been looking better over the last month. In Cutler's
final game before announcing a possible season-ending thumb injury,
Chicago had its best NYLPI performance of the season with a 94.5 in
Week 11 against San Diego.
However, with the inexperienced Hanie under center, Chicago hasn't been
able to mask some of the issues that Cutler was able to help the team
overcome. In the loss to the Chiefs, Hanie was sacked seven times and
knocked down eight more as the Bears finished with a season-low 181
yards of offense - 133 passing.
The news got even worse for Chicago's playoff hopes after running back
Matt Forte suffered a sprained MCL, which is expected to keep him
sidelined for a few games.
With Forte and Cutler out, the Bears front five recognizes it carries a
heavy burden to make it easier on Hanie and the rest of the offense.
Chicago is one of three teams in the hunt for the two wild card spots
with a 7-5 record.
"We have to keep going," center Roberto Garza said. "We have to find a
way to win the football game. ... We have to play better up front on
the offensive line, protect our quarterback and get a successful
running game going."
While the Bears' offensive line struggles could hurt their chances of
making the postseason, it didn't for the 49ers, who were one of two
teams to clinch a playoff spot last weekend after securing the NFC West.
San Francisco defeated St. Louis 26-0 on Sunday to earn its first
playoff berth in nine years. However, the result was in spite of the
offensive line's pass protection, which saw Alex Smith sacked four
times and knocked down five while being called for a false start and
two holding penalties. San Francisco graded out at 25.8 in the NYLPI -
27th in the NFL.
That's nothing new for Smith and the 49ers, however. Powered by a
strong defense and running game, they rank 30th this season at 45.3 and
were coming off a season-worst minus-52.7 mark in Week 12. In fact, the
four NFC West teams - San Francisco, St. Louis, Seattle and Arizona -
ranked 28th through 31st in the NYLPI last week respectively, ahead of
only the Bears.
The Green Bay Packers and New York Giants had no such problems in a
game that saw the difference in their protection indices end up as
close as their final score in a good old-fashioned Sunday shootout.
The Packers clinched the NFC North after defeating the New York Giants
38-35 to stay undefeated. Green Bay finished just ahead of New York in
the NYLPI, with the teams grading out at 85.1 and 83.3, respectively.
Both quarterbacks went to the air often, combining for 716 yards
passing, the difference being a Mason Crosby 31-yard field goal as time
Aaron Rodgers did face pressure during the game from a formidable
Giants pass rush - he was sacked twice, hurried five times and knocked
down on six occasions in finishing with a season-worst 106.2 passer
rating - but his offensive line stepped up when he needed it most.
Rodgers completed four straight passes for 68 yards with less than a
minute remaining on the game-winning drive.
Coming off a season-high performance the week before (90.6), the Giants
had another solid effort despite the loss of two players before the
team even took the field.
On Saturday, backup tackle Stacy Andrews was hospitalized with
pulmonary embolisms in his lungs, which will end his season. New York
was already without starting left tackle Will Beatty, who was lost for
the year following eye surgery.
Meanwhile, center David Baas was a late scratch because of headaches
and was scheduled to undergo tests this week.
"You can't start crying or complaining," said Eli Manning, who threw
for 347 yards and three touchdowns. "We've got to mid-stream adjust."
While Manning was only sacked once, he was knocked down six times and
the line was charged with two false starts. However, the pressure
didn't stop him from throwing the ball downfield. Of his passing yards,
215 were in the air - the team's second-most of the season.
Bay is unstoppable
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