The Patriots defense has struggled all season long and lately injuries have contributed to the struggles. Cornerback Devin McCourty recently returned to the lineup after separating his shoulder but he's still clearly less than 100 percent. Linebacker Brandon Spikes and safety Patrick Chung were banged up in the loss to the Giants Nov. 6 and neither has played since. Both have practiced periodically since but thus far haven't been able to get back on the field on game day.
Spikes was playing the best football of his young career when he sprained his knee against the Giants. He was showing flashes of the instincts he displayed in college and was becoming an active member of the defense, flying to the football and displaying his trademark emotion.
Chung has been a steadying presence in the secondary for the past two seasons after playing sparingly on defense as a rookie. While pass defense was a problem even when he was in the lineup, lately things have gotten worse considering the unheralded quarterbacks that have been enjoying success against the banged up Patriots.
Spikes has been limited at practice this week while Chung did not participate in the workouts on Wednesday or Thursday after being seen in a walking boot earlier in the week. It is unknown when either will make it back in the lineup, but that won't stop us from wondering which has been missed the most.
With that in mind, this week's Samsonite Make Your Case asks that very question ...
Who does the Patriots defense miss more, Patrick Chung or Brandon Spikes?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Brandon Spikes was playing the best football of his young career when he was lost to a knee injury against the New York Giants. He was showing an ability to make impact plays and ignite the defense. He has a contagious, instinctive style of play that seems to make everyone around him a little bit better. Call him the poor man's Tim Tebow of the Patriots defense.
In Spikes' absence the Patriots have been forced to use special teams types at linebacker, with Niko Koutouvides and Tracy White getting more playing time than they might normally. That not only hurts in terms of on-field play - such as Roy Helu notching an opponents' season-high 126 yards last week in Washington - but also puts a lot more pressure on Jerod Mayo as the only reliable, experienced green-dot type defender on the front to call out adjustments.
There isn't a lot that can be done in the back end. The pass defense was bad early in the year with Chung healthy and will probably be bad late in the year with him back in the lineup.
But the Patriots need to be able to count on the front - both in terms of run defense and getting after the quarterback just a little bit - if they have any chance in the postseason. Spikes clearly makes the defense better in both those areas.
More importantly he may be the only guy on the New England defense with the rare knack of making a key play at a key time in order to create some excitement and momentum on that side of the ball. That's something that's been severely lacking for the Patriots this year. And something they could use at this point. Better late than never.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Obviously it's not ideal to be missing any starters but Chung is the more valuable player. He is a big part of the defense against both the run and the pass and his absence has forced Bill Belichick to use offensive players in his place. That's certainly not an ideal situation.
Not having Chung along the back end of the defense has also put more pressure and responsibility on others like James Ihedigbo, who was filling in as a starter himself. Now Ihedigbo is basically serving as a leader at safety playing alongside Matthew Slater and Sterling Moore (before he was let go).
As well as Spikes was playing, the Patriots were able to use other linebackers like Tracy White and Dane Fletcher to fill in. Unfortunately there isn't much depth at safety and the results have shown that. The Patriots pass defense, which admittedly wasn't great with Chung, has been a disaster considering the players it has gone against in recent weeks. With the exception of the Washington game, the run defense has been solid in Spikes' absence.
Both players will help the defense if they can get healthy, but Chung's injury has had a greater impact on the team because he's a better all-around player, does more things and plays a position the team doesn't really have any alternatives at. Chung has been the bigger loss.
*Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote on this week's Samsonsite Make Your Case poll.