FOXBORO, Mass. — It’s rare to see the Patriots going into Week 2 with so many questions on offense.
The team is solid at quarterback and offensive line, but the rest of the offensive depth chart seems to be crumbling around Tom Brady and his five protectors. Julian Edelman, who signed a one-year deal with no guaranteed money this offseason, is the only player Brady can completely rely on in his offense this week if Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski are no-gos.
Less than two short months ago, New England had an excess of wide receivers and tight ends. But the rookies at those positions looked so solid all summer that the team decided to cut Michael Jenkins, Lavelle Hawkins, Jake Ballard and the rest of the team’s options. Now those rookies don’t look so solid, and the team doesn’t look too keen on bringing back the veterans it once shunned.
Check out 11 of my pressing thoughts and questions in this week’s No-Huddle Offense below.
1. The Patriots were not showing any interest in bringing back Ballard or Daniel Fells as recently as Monday. Other teams had interest in both players, as Ballard had a workout with the Ravens and Fells worked out with the Seahawks. It would have seemed to make sense to sign one of those players before Thursday’s game since the team may be down to just Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan and James Develin at the position.
2. It’s odd the team is carrying eight total linebackers on the roster, nine if you include Rob Ninkovich, who can play strong-side linebacker in a pinch. It’s especially strange because the Patriots played the majority of their snaps in Week 1 with just two linebackers on the field. The nickel defense became the sub defense. Jamie Collins, Dane Fletcher and Steve Beauharnais all play special teams, but it’s unclear what Chris White is still doing on the roster, especially with Ja’Gared Davis serving as extra depth on the practice squad.
3. That extreme depth at linebacker makes the Patriots very shallow along the defensive line, where they’re carrying just three defensive tackles and four defensive ends. Those numbers should increase in the coming weeks.
4. The Patriots brought Andre Carter in for a physical on Monday, according to a source. If the team is interested in Carter, they may have liked what they saw from Chandler Jones in the three-technique defensive tackle position. They should have, too. Jones was very good in that role when the Patriots slid him from defensive end to defensive tackle on third down.
5. I asked Jones about playing inside, and he said he had never played that role before. He said it was fun to play inside. He said Bill Belichick asked him to do it, and if it helped the team win, he would keep doing it. Last year we saw Jermaine Cunningham serve that role. Jones was much more effective.
6. When Jones was coming out of Syracuse, I thought his best position would be five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 once he put on 20-25 pounds. He’s up about 15 pounds now, and it’s obvious the team likes the idea of him rushing from inside. Jones is stronger than he is fast. During the summer, when the Patriots were showing three-man looks, Jones had his hand in the ground. Rob Ninkovich became the standup linebacker.
7. Stevan Ridley should start on Thursday night. The way Belichick handles fumbles is effective but possibly a little extreme and may only exacerbate the issue. When Ridley is benched for the remainder of the game, it makes his fumbling issues more obvious to the common fan. Now that Ridley knows what will happen if he does fumble, it’s time to give him another shot and see if he’s up to the task.
8. Michael Buchanan was the best rookie out on the field on Sunday. He didn’t get any sacks in his 11 defensive snaps, but he did pressure EJ Manuel a couple times.
9. This Patriots secondary could wind up being very good as long as everyone stays healthy. The players all fit into their roles, and it starts with the outside cornerbacks. It’s important to have players like Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard, who can hold down their side of the field. Everyone’s important, though.
10. Once Amendola comes back, it will be interesting to see if the Patriots use him and Edelman in two-receiver sets. Both are far from prototypical “X” receivers, but they were the best two wideouts on the team on Sunday.
11. The Patriots’ offensive line may have its hands full with some of the Jets’ defenders. Dan Connolly is the weakest link on the offensive line, and he’ll be battling with Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson. It will be interesting to see if Marcus Cannon takes any reps from Connolly.