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Patriots offensive line struggles in loss

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Football can be a complex game at times. It can also be quite simple.

What happened to the New England Patriots' offense in the second half of their season-opening 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins seems to fall more into the latter category.

As left tackle Nate Solder said in general terms after the game, "If you can't block, it's hard to do anything. ... I think it all starts with us up front."

That's the way it felt watching the Patriots' offense go from efficient and productive in the first half to stuck in neutral and outscored 23-0 in the second half despite playing against a Miami defense that was without its top three linebackers. The Dolphins controlled the line of scrimmage and quarterback Tom Brady was under consistent duress, as the Patriots struggled to block a very good Dolphins defensive line.

A performance like that gives ammunition to those who might look back at the Aug. 26 trade of Logan Mankins and ask, "How did it make the team better?"

Mankins, it should be noted, left the Buccaneers' season-opener with a knee injury.

"Whatever we could do to throw [Brady] off was part of our game plan and I thought the guys up front did a good job up front of getting after him," said defensive end Cameron Wake, whose speed created trouble for right tackle Sebastian Vollmer and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui as he had two of the Dolphins' four sacks.

The pressure came from all over, and at first glance, Mankins' replacement at left guard -- fourth-year veteran Marcus Cannon -- seemed like the least of the Patriots' issues. Cannon went wire-to-wire at guard, which reflects how coach Bill Belichick and first-year line coach Dave DeGuglielmo currently view him as one of the team's best four linemen along with tackles Solder and Vollmer and center/captain Dan Connolly.

The question is who is No. 5.

With that still unclear, the Patriots adopted a rotation that had first-year player Jordan Devey starting at right guard, and then subbed him out of the game every few series in place of center Ryan Wendell. When Wendell came on, Connolly moved to right guard.

One line of thinking is that the constant shuffling makes it harder for offensive linemen to jell, but Solder wasn't making excuses.

"I didn't feel any difference when one center was in or the other," he said.

Solder also said it wasn't a case of the Dolphins doing anything they weren't expecting.

"You go in expecting the unexpected. I know that sounds cliche but we knew there was going to be some stuff we hadn't seen on film. That's what we saw and we adjusted to it. I don't think that was the issue, if there was one issue," he relayed.

At first glance, there seemed to be quite a few.

So after an offseason wondering how the retirement of offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia might affect this group, and the last two weeks sparking questions over how the unit might come together and perform without Mankins, Sunday's opener was a big disappointment for the Patriots.