NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
The Patriots will be missing everyone’s favorite ninja for the next 1-6 weeks depending on whose source you believe.
Aaron Hernandez came out of Sunday’s game against the Chargers with an MCL sprain. The injury occurred in the 4th quarter after Hernandez took a shot from Bob Sanders’ helmet to his knee after a five-yard reception. Hernandez stayed in the game for five more plays before leaving for the sideline.
The Boston Globe originally reported the injury could hold him out for 1-2 weeks. Comcast Sports Net’s Tom Curran countered hearing it could be a 4-6 week injury while the Boston Herald’s Ian Rapoport is hearing 1-2.
Here’s hoping the optimistic reports are more accurate. Other than Tom Brady, you could say that Hernandez might be the most important piece of the Patriots’ no huddle offense.
Hernandez has the ability to line up out wide as a receiver, inside as a tight end and even in the backfield as a fullback/h-back. Hernandez’s speed creates mismatches in the opposing defense and opens up the field for Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski.
The ability to throw two outstanding tight ends at defenses creates the uncertainty as to whether the Patriots are passing or running the ball. Hernandez is such a great route runner and has such imposing size that throwing either a defensive back or a linebacker one on one on him is a constant mismatch.
The most obvious replacements for Hernandez are tight end Dan Gronkowski and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, though both have their disadvantages.
Gronkowski won’t know the offense as well as Hernandez, which will limit his route running and he’s not nearly the mismatch that Hernandez is with his limited speed.
Ochocinco once again won’t create the same kind of mismatches and will have to prove that he knows the Patriots offense like the back of his hand before he can be a part of the Patriots vaunted no-huddle offense.
Will this literally slow down the Patriots offense? Yes. They won’t be able to stay in the no-huddle nearly as long. Does this mean the end of the Patriots electric offense? Absolutely not.
Ochocinco was brought to New England for a reason and this is the perfect jumpstart he needs. If Ochocinco isn’t up to speed with the no-huddle, I would expect to see Matt Slater or Taylor Price take his place.
The Patriots will be able to get by in Buffalo and Oakland without Hernandez, but he might be a necessity to throw off the Jets stout defense. I’d expect the Patriots to ramp up their rush attack in their next two games, which means more BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Stevan Ridley and Nate Solder. The extra active roster slot could also mean we could see Taylor Price or Shane Vereen make the trip to Orchard Park or Oakland.
For most teams, losing a player as talented as Hernandez for even one game could mean trouble, but Tom Brady has more weapons than he’s ever had before. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for Hernandez’s knee.