Injuries are a fact of life in the NFL and every team will deal with significant personnel losses throughout the season. The Patriots suffered a couple of serious ones during their Week 6 win in Buffalo when linebacker Jerod Mayo and running back Stevan Ridley were lost for the season with knee injuries.
Each is an important piece to the puzzle – Ridley as the team's lone option as a lead back and Mayo as a captain and cerebral force in the middle of the defense. The Patriots really don't have individuals capable of replicating either's specific skill set, which means the team will need to lean on a number of players to fill the void.
In the first full game without either option, the Patriots allowed 218 yards on the ground while picking up only 63 yards against the Jets.
Obviously losing a running back affects the running game while losing such a key cog of the front seven is bound to impact the run defense. So this week we're looking for the running game on both sides of the ball and our Samsonite Make Your Case question is: Which are you more concerned about, running the ball or stopping the run?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Running the ball
Stevan Ridley was the only guy I felt comfortable handing the ball 15-20 times in between the tackles in an every-down role. Without him the Patriots will be relegated to trying to trick teams with formations and runs against sub defenses with Shane Vereen and the rest. I don't like the chances of establishing a quality run game if that's the case.
The offensive line has had its share of struggles protecting Tom Brady, and taking away the threat of the run won't make that any easier. Without Ridley the Patriots will need to find a way to generate some production on the ground. Otherwise situations like the one late in Thursday's win over the Jets when the Patriots couldn't rush for a first down to close it out will be repeated.
And it's not like the passing game has reached past levels of production. Last year it was the running game that carried the struggling offense into the playoffs. Without Ridley and LeGarrette Blount, who will do so this year? The ground game will need to improve if the Patriots are to be a threat come January.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
Stopping the run
Anytime a defense can't stop the run it makes everything else that much more difficult. The Jets showed by running the ball effectively even a one-win team can remain in the game and have a chance to win. As a result they controlled the clock, kept Tom Brady on the sideline and forced Bill Belichick to employ extra men in the box. That led to some opportunities for the Jets in the passing game and a significant edge in time of possession.
Mayo is a big loss but his absence should not have led to such struggles. In fact even when he was in the lineup the Patriots allowed two other opponents (Miami, Kansas City) to run wild. Not surprisingly, those two teams beat New England and the Jets nearly made it 3-for-3.
Now the Patriots are without one of their best run stoppers and Matt Forte and the Chicago Bears are up next. And things are supposed to improve? Maybe that will be the case but right now I'm quite concerned about this team's ability to keep opposing running backs in check.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.