NEPD Staff Writer: Ken Vetrano
Chaos theory is the study of unpredictability. Basically trying to discover all potential possibilities and outcomes for a given situation. The NFL playoffs may be the ultimate experiment in testing said theory. Many variables exist within the annual contest, and a lot is determined by circumstance and not necessarily skill. One wrong hit, or blown call can alter a teams’ Super Bowl hopes dramatically.
The Patriots have faced plenty of these variables the past couple seasons, and unfortunately were not equipped to make the proper adjustments in time. This season however, things seem to be different in Foxboro. New England now has the personnel depth at most positions to compete in wars of attrition, while balance on both sides of the ball spreads responsibility among the roster evenly. The offense doesn’t have to compensate for the defense and vice versa.
That being said, some variables are tougher to overcome than others. It’s hard to gauge how officials are going to call a game, and if certain calls don’t go the Patriots’ way, there’s not much they can do about it. Typically refs call a looser game during the playoffs, and keep the yellow laundry tucked away. Either way, that’s an aspect of the game New England has zero control over. However, as unpredictable as injuries are, teams can still control their own fate by how they handle loosing players. In my opinion, there are four injuries that would be most difficult for them to overcome, but not as impossible as they would have been in the past… so let’s account for those variables.
In the event Rob Gronkowski gets hobbled again, the Patriots offense will definitely stumble, but not fall over. Tim Wright is a more than capable receiver, and offers an exceptional catch radius in the red zone. He’s nowhere near the caliber of blocking TE as Gronk, but incorporating an extra lineman at TE can solve that problem on running downs. New England is also armed with better four WR sets than they’ve had in recent memory. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen spread out is enough to get by without the big guy. The main reason why? They only need to be efficient and not explosive since the defense won’t break on them.
Vince Wilfork taking a ride on the cart would be another mammoth sized blow to the team, just not a fatal one. Alan Branch could fill Vince’s role inside, whether playing the 0-technique or shading the inside gaps depending on the formation called. Sealver Siliga being back also softens that loss. Their run defense would obviously suffer, but I believe Belichick could do enough to scheme around the injury to avoid it becoming a catastrophic subtraction.
Darrelle Revis exiting for the locker room would be disasterous. Could they still truck along without #24? Yes, but without Alfonzo Dennard, I’m not sure they have enough quality depth to patch up the leaks left by Revis’s absence in the secondary. Logan Ryan has been too inconsistent this season to be trusted. Malcolm Butler might have a bright future ahead of him, but is still very green. Kyle Arrington has played great this year underneath and has been much improved covering outside as well, I’m just not sure he could consistently handle the increased responsibility. Brandon Browner is in the same boat, he’s played good for New England, but if asked to man up on faster, quicker receivers he will get beat.
A lot would be determined by how exotic Belichick gets with blitz packages, and if pass rushers could win one on one battles more. With the way Akeem Ayers, Jamie Collins and Don’ta Hightower have been used at times rushing the quarterback, I feel they could somewhat mitigate the loss of Revis with more pressure. New England’s front seven would be all hands on deck to make sure their secondary remains less susceptible to big plays. They may not be able to replace what Revis does, but there’s still enough talent on the defense to win if he’s lost.
Any injury at the linebacker position could cripple the Patriots because they don’t have enough depth or talent behind their starters. New England’s defense would become less versatile, and have to rely heavily on defensive backs in the run game. Their secondary however is stout enough to act as a crutch, and keep the defense upright overall.
Disclaimer: I did not include Tom Brady, because if #12 goes down everything is over. Don’t need to elaborate much, but the loss of him would demoralize the whole team. Emotionally getting over that loss would be just as tough as replacing his production.
What do you guys think? Are these injuries too much for Brady and company to overcome? Or are there other injuries you think would be just as difficult to get passed, but maybe not impossible?
Whether you agree or disagree, there is no question that the New England Patriots are better prepared this year to deal with the inevitable chaos, also known as the NFL playoffs.
Tags: Akeem Ayers, Alan Branch, Alfonzo Dennard, Bill Belichick, Brandon Browner, Brandon LaFell, Danny Amendola, Darrell Revis, Don'ta Hightower, Jamie Collins, Julian Edelaman, Kyle Arrington, Logan Ryan, Rob Gronkowksi, Sealver Siliga, Shane Vereen, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork