The Patriots announced another handful of transactions Saturday afternoon. Though some brought good news, the biggest move was another blow to the defense.
The good news is that the offense gets a boost as veteran running back Kevin Faulk was added to the active roster in advance of Sunday's game at Pittsburgh after opening the season on PUP.
Another positive was the fact that defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick was also added to the 53-man roster after opening up the season on PUP. That should help out the rotation along the defensive line that grew a bit thinner with Myron Pryor and Mike Wright landing on IR in the first two months of the season.
Now, for the bad news. A day after the team shockingly released veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden the Patriots announced that rookie second-round pick Ras-I Dowling was placed on injured reserve with a hip injury.
The oft-injured cornerback had been battling for a starting job and significant playing time in the short stints when he was healthy and on the field this summer and fall, but as was the case in both high school and in college at Virginia injuries once again keep Dowling from performing up to his immense athletic potential.
A secondary that's already part of the 32nd ranked pass defense has to deal with yet another blow. New England is now left with just two somewhat proven cornerbacks in second-year starters Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. The Pro Bowler McCourty has struggled mightily to open his sophomore campaign, while Arrington has been just OK while recording a team-high four interceptions.
But behind those two, there is little on the depth chart at this point. Antwaun Molden (a fourth-year player) is next in line and will likely serve as the third corner in against the Steelers. Philip Adams, a second-year player, is also on the roster. Neither has ever started an NFL game, and together they bring minimal playing experience.
The lack of experience and depth at cornerback may be compounded by a similar uncertainty at safety. While Patrick Chung is a proven starter and developing force at one starting safety spot, the other has been a work in progress. Josh Barrett opened the season, but has missed time with thumb and hamstring injuries. Sergio Brown struggled in his playing time in Oakland, while James Ihedigbo has been the choice to start in recent weeks. The former UMass product has played relatively well, but still has much to prove.
Today's announcement regarding Dowling adds even more intrigue to the decision to cut Bodden on the Friday before a big game. Did the former starter get let go simply because of injuries? Was he unhappy with his role? Is there more to the story for a guy the team gave a four-year, $22 million contract less than two years ago? We may never know.
What we do know is that a secondary that seemed to be stocked with decent talent and depth to open training camp is now precariously thin and without any truly proven players. The decision to cut safeties Brandon Meriweather and, even more so James Sanders in training camp remains curious. Though they had never really developed in New England, the team also released former starters Jonathan Wilhite and Darius Butler, guys who might look like decent options at this point.
Now Bodden is on the waiver wire and Dowling – the very first pick of the second round in last April's draft – is on IR. And a Patriots secondary that's already been brutal for much of the season has fewer and less experienced bodies to turn to. There may now be even more pressure on the pass rush to get its act together, while the Tom Brady-led offense will likely continue to be asked to score a lot of points to win football games. It's days like this when we realize why NFL head coaches make the big bucks.