The New England Patriots updated their injury report on Friday, and boy, was it a doozie.
Everyone deals with injuries, and the Patriots are no exception, but with as many injuries to key players as the Patriots are dealing with at present, they could be asking more of several players further down on the depth chart.
Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston gave us the updates:
The Patriots rule WR Julian Edelman (hand) and TE Aaron Hernandez (ankle) as out for Sunday's game. OL Logan Mankins questionable.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 28, 2012
But that's not all...
TE Rob Gronkowski a new addition to the injury report. He is listed as questionable with a hip injury.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 28, 2012
Whoa, let's slow down; try and bite off too much at once and you'll choke, so let's digest these one at a time.
The absence of Hernandez was to be expected; the third-year tight end injured his ankle two weeks ago against the Cardinals and hasn't been seen since.
Hernandez has dominated the Bills in the past, going off for 13 receptions for 203 yards and a touchdown in his two games combined, adding three rushes for 39 yards.
The Patriots offense struggled in Week 2 after he went down but seemed to adjust alright in Week 3; they had four drives of nine plays or more, two resulting in touchdowns and all four resulting in points. They would love to have Hernandez for this game, but Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald indicates Hernandez has been spotted walking around the locker room recently:
Hernandez strolls through locker room. No limp or ankle protection.— Jeff Howe (@jeffphowe) September 27, 2012
He could be back sooner than later, but his absence could be felt this week.
After catching a touchdown pass in the first half of Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, Edelman injured his hand and missed the second half. He had begun earning a significant amount of playing time in the offense and has been targeted 15 times through three weeks.
Edelman had been targeted seven times, third most on the team, before leaving the game with the injury last week
Luckily for quarterback Tom Brady, wide receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd have stepped up big over the past couple of weeks. The two have combined for 30 catches on 45 targets for 405 yards in the past two games.
Still, this is a considerable blow for both Edelman and the Patriots, as the team was looking to get more out of him this season.
Like his Boston TE Party counterpart, Rob Gronkowski has dominated the Bills, but he hasn't been utilized as much in the passing game as last year and has also drawn a lot more coverage from opposing defenses.
If he's unable to go, or not at 100 percent, that could severely impact not only his ability to be productive in the passing game, but also in blocking. The Patriots have used him a lot to help in protection on defensive ends, and there may be no better example of a time when he'll be needed to do so than against two top-tier pass-rushers in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
Gronkowski has been one of the most vital pieces to the Patriots offense in the past couple of years, but especially in the red zone, and without him at 100 percent, it's fair to wonder who the Patriots throw to when they get near the goal line without any true red zone threat to speak of.
We saw how this offense functions when he's not at 100 percent against the Giants in the Super Bowl, and it wouldn't be far-fetched to expect similar problems from the Patriots offense without him against the Bills.
Mankins played all of 2011 with a torn ACL, so his toughness meter is a 10-out-of-10.
Even if he plays, though, will he be fully healthy?
He may have to be; he'll be lining up across from defensive tackles Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams all day. The two have combined for 4.5 sacks and four pressures on the young three-game season, so he'll have his work cut out for him even if he's healthy.
But if he's not 100 percent? That may be the first time in Mankins' career a defensive tackle is actually looking forward to facing him—OK, maybe not the first.
Alone, any of these individual injuries aren't too much to digest. All at once, though, while the offense continues to sputter at times and show inconsistency, could cause indigestion for this Patriots offense.
They are fortunate to have a quarterback like Brady, who is capable of making those around him play at a higher level; were it any other quarterback, there may be little chance of coming out with a win.
No. 12 gives them a chance, if nothing else.
But there are multiple things he and the offense will have to do:
- Get the ball out quickly, exploiting the coverage on the outsides and taking advantage of the matchups with Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker on the Bills cornerbacks.
- Run misdirection to counter the pressure up the middle; this includes screen plays, moving the pocket and draw plays up the middle.
If the Patriots can do those two things, they should be okay. If not, they should be ready to answer a lot of questions at 1-3.
Erik Frenz is the AFC East lead blogger for Bleacher Report. Be sure to follow Erik on Twitter and "like" the AFC East blog on Facebook to keep up with all the updates. Unless specified otherwise, all quotes are obtained firsthand.