We knew the Patriots were banged up, but it appears it’s a little worse than anticipated.
Middle Linebacker Brandon Spikes and Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard have been downgraded on the Patriots Injury Report and will not play tomorrow in Jacksonville against the Jaguars.
While the injury status for the two defenders could have gone either way, it was expected that Tight End Rob Gronkowski and his broken left forearm will get at least one more week’s rest, as he was downgraded as well.
Spikes has been battling nagging knee and ankle injuries, while Dennard hurt his right knee in the second quarter of Sunday’s loss to the 49ers. It is not known if either could have started were this a playoff game and are just being held out for rehab and recovery, or if the injuries are considered serious.
The concern going into this game is with the Dennard injury.
The 7th round steal out of Nebraska had supplanted Kyle Arrington as the starting corner opposite Aqib Talib and had started to come into his own with solid coverage and a nose for the ball despite being targeted frequently. Now Arrington is ready to assume the role as Dennard’s top backup.
With Maurice Jones-Drew inactive for this game, the only real threat that the Jaguars possess on offense is the play of their receivers, as Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts have consistently shown open looks and solid play making – and it figures that whomever is lined up across from Arrington will see plenty of balls come their way on Sunday Afternoon.
There is a Plan B, which would see McCourty go back to playing corner and having Chung and Gregory man the Safety positions, but that seems unlikely given McCourty’s strong play in the safety role and Gregory’s lack of physicality. Gregory was replaced by the more physical Chung against the 49ers and played very well.
From this perspective it would be a mistake to entrust the last line of defense to a Gregory / Chung match up. If Arrington does play the corner as expected, that would promote Tavon Wilson from the dime back to the primary nickle, while Marquis Cole would assume the dime responsibilities.
Spikes’ spot will be easier to cover just by considering depth, as veterans Tracy White and Mike Rivera playing well in spot duty this season.
The silver lining of the Gronkowski injury is that Michael Hoomanawanui has emerged as a legitimate receiving threat and has contributed strongly in the running game in an H-back role as a true blocking back – and while “Hooman” does not possess Gronkowski’s skill set – no one does – he has been a welcome addition and has carved out a role on this team into the post-season and beyond.
So while silver linings are to be had despite the injuries to Spikes and Gronkowski, all we can hope for at Dennard’s spot is that Arrington doesn’t tarnish his.