NEPD Staff Writer: Doug Kyed
Can you believe it’s already week 17? It seems like just yesterday we were all excited about last year’s defense with the addition of Leigh Bodden and Ty Warren coming back from injury. That didn’t go so well, but the season has so far.
A lot has changed since the last time the Bills and Patriots faced each other. The aforementioned Bodden actually started in that game at RCB. Some other interesting names that participated in that game: Brandon Spikes, Josh Barrett, Landon Cohen and Jermaine Cunningham.
There’s a lot of talk about Tom Brady’s shoulder injury and getting out of this game without any more major injuries, I’m more concerned about getting players back from injury in this game.
Here are some things I’m looking for in Sunday’s rematch against the Bills:
The two key players I’d like to see come back are obvious names, but also important ones: Spikes and Patrick Chung. The Patriots didn’t have Chung in their first matchup against the Bills, which opened up the middle of the field for Fred Jackson to do some damage in the passing game. Jackson’s out now, but C.J. Spiller could easily play that same role for the Bills. Seeing Spikes and Chung is about more than just winning a football game though, the Patriots are going to need those guys come playoff time. I just want some kind of proof that they can play in a football game.
I wouldn’t mind seeing Matt Light play this weekend, but if he can’t, or shouldn’t I’m not too worried about him playing during the playoffs. I know Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer are almost certainly out on Sunday. I’m really questioning why the Patriots haven’t placed Vollmer on injured reserve yet, especially since they’ve had such a quick trigger finger with that this year. Vollmer doesn’t appear to be even close to returning to game action.
Likely, we’ll be seeing an offensive line of Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters and Marcus Cannon again. It’s not the best players we can throw out there, but it is fun to watch the rookies and Thomas to see if they can get it done another week.
The Patriots cut Alex Silvestro last night and have not filled his spot yet on the 53 man roster as of when I’m writing this. That means the Patriots have three edge rushers on the team once again: Shaun Ellis, Mark Anderson and Rob Ninkovich. Is this the time that we see Markell Carter, or perhaps are the Patriots going to resign Eric Moore?
I wouldn’t mind doing either of those things, but if the Patriots get Brandon Spikes back this week, they could turn in house and give an edge rush role to Dane Fletcher. He’s proved adept at getting after the QB in a number of different roles for two seasons now, and he’ll likely be losing a lot of snaps to Spikes. Fletcher is a player who can really make an impact for the Patriots, and I’d hate to see him sitting on the bench since he’s been one of the better players on the defense since coming back from his thumb injury.
MCCOURTY AND ARRINGTON
Both starting corners for the Patriots have had up and down seasons. Kyle Arrington has really struggled lately after having a pretty dominant start to the season, while Devin McCourty seems to be up and down in every single game. New England will need both of those players to being playing at their peak during the playoffs. They’ve been getting very little help from the safeties since Chung’s been out, and even with Chung back, they’ll still have to deal with one poor safety.
I’m hoping that if Chung does come back this week, he’ll be playing free safety. I know that coverage isn’t particularly his strength, but he’s much better than Ihedigbo, Sterling Moore or Sergio Brown. That would leave James Ihedigbo to play strong safety, which he’s probably better suited for. It’s not what we expected back in July or August, but it’s what we’re stuck with and McCourty and Arrington will need to bail those guys out. I’d also like to see Julian Edelman play some slot CB this week.
GET THE RB’S GOING
Stevan Ridley looks like he’s taking over as the lead back just in time for the fantasy football season to be over. In a backfield that’s been nearly as unpredictable as Mike Shanahan’s has been, it does seem like we’re getting some clarity. Ridley is perhaps the best first and second down back the Patriots have, but he doesn’t have the same kind of ball security trust that BenJarvus Green-Ellis has. If he can fully gain that trust, he could be a force in the playoffs.
Danny Woodhead has been under-utilized this season, but so has the no huddle offense. If the Patriots can start using that more, we’ll see some more of Woodhead’s highly effective draws that seem to always go for somewhere between five to eight yards.
WHAT DOES THIS GAME MEAN?
Obviously getting home field throughout the playoffs would be huge, but this game is more important to see what this team has going into the playoffs. Last week was a great indication of how good and how bad this team can be and it was polar opposite of the first Bills game.
Last week the Patriots got dominated in the first half and couldn’t get anything going on offense. In week three, Tom Brady seemed to be on pace for another record breaking performance before the Patriots offense and defense completely sputtered in the second half. It might be asking too much, but if the Patriots could combine the two good aspects of those games, they’ll easily be the best AFC team heading into the playoffs.