The New England Patriots have a 3,500 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, and 1,000 yard receiver, but none of those guys are the most important offensive player for the Patriots when they face the Houston Texans Monday night – their most important offensive player will be guard Logan Mankins. With a young offensive line going up against the league’s premier rusher, Mankins’ ability to play could determine the outcome of the game.
The Patriots have had problems with the offensive line since last year’s Super Bowl. First Pro Bowl left tackle Matt Light announced his retirement after spending ten years with the team. Then Pro Bowl guard Brian Waters refused to play with the Patriots this season, becoming the second starter not to return. As if that wasn’t tough enough, Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer have both had lingering injuries which date back to training camp.
The Patriots young offensive line has done a surprisingly good job keeping Tom Brady upright this season. With the key members of the line missing for much of the year, they were expected to be the weak spot of the Patriots offense, but have instead fought valiantly. This week the Texans will invade Foxborough with their All-Pro defensive end J.J. Watt. Watt has 16.5 sacks this year which places him second in the league behind San Francisco’s Aldon Smith.
Mankins has been a stalwart fixture on the Patriots offensive line since 2005 when he was a first-round draft pick by the team. He’s seen many of the game’s great defensive ends over the past seven years and been asked to keep them away from the Patriots marquee quarterback. While Mankins may not be fully healthy on Monday night his experience against Watt, who is still just in his second NFL season, would be a huge contribution to the team.
A combination of double teams may be enough to keep Watt away from Brady Monday night, but Mankins may be the only one who can do it himself. It’s still unclear whether the four-time Pro Bowler will be able to play Monday night but his presence, even lacking full health, could be the key for the Patriots winning. The decision of whether to risk Mankins’ health to protect Brady or risk Watt destroying him is something Bill Belichick will have to ponder through the weekend.