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Hannable: Even with all the injuries on offense, the unit to be most skeptical about is Patriots defense

Ryan Hannable
September 19, 2017 - 9:41 am

Even though it’s been two weeks, for the Patriots medical staff it must seem like an entire season with all the injuries it has had to deal with since the preseason. 

New England went into Sunday’s game without Dont’a Hightower (knee), Danny Amendola (head/knee), Matthew Slater (hamstring), Vincent Valentine (knee) and Nate Ebner (shoulder), and then saw even more key players get injured in the game against the Saints. Rob Gronkowski (groin), Chris Hogan (knee), Eric Rowe (groin) and Phillip Dorsett (ankle) were all injured in the game, but none appear to be very serious.

The offense has been impacted most by the injuries as not listed was losing Julian Edelman for the year with a torn ACL. It went into the game against the Saints with just three healthy receivers, but still was able to put up 36 points and Tom Brady was able to throw for over 400 yards. 

Because of how creative offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is, along with Brady’s skills, the offense can get by without some key players perhaps better than any other unit in football.

After two weeks, the offense is averaging 31.5 points per game, which is in the top five in the league. It seems no matter who the Patriots throw out there they will be able to score points.

On the other side of the ball, things are not as certain.

After two games the Patriots defense is still clearly still figuring some things out. There are a number of newcomers and some players playing in some different spots, so it appears it will take some time to become a finished product.

One of the biggest issues the unit has had is troubles with communication. On multiple plays some players appear to think one thing, while others think another thing and that has led to some big plays.

The Saints had six passing plays going for 20 or more yards and then in the opener the Chiefs, they had two touchdowns of over 75 yards. This is extremely uncharacteristic of the Patriots defense, which takes tremendous pride in not allowing big plays.

Overall, the defense has allowed nine passing plays of more than 20 yards this season when all of last year they allowed 44.

“Obviously every play wasn’t great. We still gave up a couple big plays in the first half that we know we can fix,” Devin McCourty told reporters after the game. “We still have a lot of room for improvement.”

Even though the Patriots have some extremely talented players on defense, there are some questions which still haven’t been answered.

Will Hightower be able to adjust to playing a defensive end role? Who will take the lead and be the signal-caller in the middle of the defense? Will Stephon Gilmore become more comfortable in the system as the year goes on? Will Malcolm Butler’s role/attitude become an issue?

There just aren’t even close to as many questions about the offense than with the defense.

The defense did take a giant step in the right direction with all the improvements it made against the Saints, but there were still plenty of things to clean up and still things happening that usually don’t occur with Patriots defenses.

Things are trending much like they did last season when the defense took until the second half of the year to completely figure things out and become exactly who they want to be. But, since there are so many newcomers and new roles, there’s no guarantee things will turn out close to last year when New England was the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL. 

So while everyone is wondering who will Brady throw to in the coming weeks, the bigger question people should be asking is how will the defense look? Following Week 2, that is where the real question marks on this team lie.

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