Life Without Aaron Hernandez: How Will the Patriots Replace Their Star?

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Life Without Aaron Hernandez: How Will the Patriots Replace Their Star?
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Prior to the start of the 2011 season it would have been quite fair to question whether or not Aaron Hernandez could outdo his phenomenal rookie campaign. The 20-year-old proved to be a valuable weapon in a developing Patriots offense, catching nearly 50 passes in 2010. 

Just two weeks into the NFL season, Hernandez has effectively put an end to that discussion.

While two games is indeed a small sample, the youngster was on a scorching pace. Only a second-year pro, Hernandez was on pace to catch 112 balls for 1,320 yards to go along with 16 scores after Week 2. That pace of course will come to a screeching halt due to the knee injury he sustained last Sunday against San Diego.

Hernandez is now expected to be out for an undetermined amount of time as his MCL heals.  

It's clear that he has a while to go before he fulfills his almost endless potential and it's clear he's become one of Tom Brady's most trusted assets when he's on the field. What isn't so clear is the direction the offense will take during his absence.

New England's Week 3 opponent hasn't been much of an opponent in recent memory.

The Buffalo Bills are on a 15-game losing streak against the Patriots, a streak which began way back in 2003. Buffalo has had trouble defending the run, ranking last in the league in terms of total rushing yards allowed last season.

Paul Posluszny, one of the Bills' few respectable defensive talents, left via free agency in the offseason, compounding the issue. 

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The Patriots have made a concerted effort to design their offensive attack on a week-to-week basis. We may see their pedal-to-the-medal style aerial show pretty frequently, but you'd be kidding yourself if you thought New England was a one-dimensional offense. 

This Week 3 matchup presents a perfect opportunity for the Patriots to unleash their newly designed running game on the league (and the Bills specifically). 

With the health and preparedness of rookie Shane Vereen still in question, there's no guarantee that we'll be treated to his debut just yet. Fellow rookie ball carrier, Stevan Ridely debuted last weekend, but only received two carries.

It is possible, however, that New England will seek to run the ball early and run the ball often on Sunday. 

That could necessitate more active bodies in the backfield on the game-day roster and allow us our first extended look at the new ball-carriers. Then again, Buffalo could be in for a large helping of the "Law Firm" with Danny Woodhead sprinkled in on passing downs.  

Time will tell, but it should surprise no one if the Patriots lean more on their running game during Hernandez's absence. The team certainly doesn't have to rely on the run, but one would wonder why such a hefty investment was made in the offensive line and running game if that wasn't in the eventual plans.

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