Under .500 for the first time since 2003 and heading into a crucial divisional away game in Buffalo, where the Bills lead the division right now, the Patriots are less than 100% injury wise and missing critical players. Everyone knows about the Aaron Hernandez injury. He’ll be out another week and probably won’t be back until week 6 at the earliest. Hernandez’s replacement, Julian Edelman, is also out with what’s presumed to be a broken hand (although Belichick never tells anyone anything), which means we’ll see a lot more of Brady’s old favorite target Deion Branch, recently resigned last week. However, possibly the biggest injury is one to left guard Logan Mankins.
Mankins played all last season with a torn ACL and finished the season outside the top-6 at his position on ProFootballFocus for the first time since they started keeping track in 2008, as a result. That streak of top-6 appearances from 2008-2010 is something no other guard in the league can say. It’s incredible how Mankins played through that injury, something you never hear anyone do (he tore it week 1 and had surgery after the Super Bowl), and given that, it’s kind of ironic that a hip injury is sidelining him this week. I guess this injury must be one that actually significantly limits his ability, rather than just a pain tolerance thing.
The reason I say that this is possibly the biggest injury is because Tom Brady has had success without much receiving help before. In 10 seasons, Brady has had 9 different players have impressive receiving totals and, with the exception of Randy Moss, none did anything before New England and none did anything after and Moss was acquired for a 4th round pick so it’s not like they acquired him at his peak or anything.
However, if you like to nitpick, the only flaw in Brady’s game is that if your 4 guys can beat his 5 guys, he’s beatable. He also only has completed 232 of 464 passes (50.0%) and thrown 24 touchdowns to 13 interceptions under pressure over the last 3 seasons plus, as opposed to 1061 for 1520 (69.8%) with 97 touchdowns to 25 interceptions while not under pressure. You can’t blitz him. He’s too smart for that and he’s 362 for 572 (63.3%) and has thrown 35 touchdowns to 8 interceptions when blitzed over the last 3 plus seasons. But if you can him pressure and throw off his timing with 4 guys, he’s beatable because this offense is so reliant on timing.
The offensive line has already been less than stellar this season, ranking 12th in the league in pass block efficiency, which isn’t bad, but it’s not ideal. Mankins absence definitely doesn’t help that and he’ll be replaced with the inexperienced Donald Thomas, which leaves right guard Dan Connolly as the only experienced veteran on the offensive line, and he might be the least talented of the bunch. Buffalo has a good front 4, so it’s a concern.
Still, the Patriots have a huge talent advantage in this one. They may be 1-2, to Buffalo’s 2-1, but all 3 games they’ve played have been against tougher opponents than anyone Buffalo’s played (Tennessee/NY Jets is an argument). The Patriots’ last 2 losses have come by a combined 3 points and on top that of, they’ll be extra motivated coming off two straight losses. They’re deadly off a loss in general, but they haven’t lost three straight since 2002. It’ll be a challenge and a good game, but you have to think the Patriots still have the advantage, even banged up on the road.