FOXBORO, Mass. — Where have you gone, Sterling Moore? New England may need to turn its lonely eyes to you.
The Patriots went into the 2013 season with such strong depth in the defensive backfield, it felt like 2011 — when Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater and 14 other players lined up in the secondary — was eons behind New England. But with Alfonzo Dennard (knee), Aqib Talib (hip), Kyle Arrington (groin) and Steve Gregory (thumb) all on the mend, the Patriots may need some of those faces from two years ago back.
There’s not a worse week for all these injuries, either. The Patriots are set to take on the best passing offense they’ve faced in years. With Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and Wes Welker (maybe) all in the same unit, New England needs all its starters healthy.
In a perfect world, Talib would cover Demaryius Thomas, Arrington would take on Welker, Ryan would guard Decker and some combination of Gregory, Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and the linebackers would do their best on Julius Thomas. Now? Who knows. With all the injured defensive backs out at practice on Wednesday, there’s no telling who is even going to suit up for New England.
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like the Patriots may have had one of only two or three secondaries in the NFL that could match up with Denver. New England was near the top of every defensive passing statistic. On Monday night, though, the Patriots couldn’t even stop Cam Newton, Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn.
In a best-case scenario, Talib’s hip will heal by Sunday night, Gregory will play with a cast on his right hand and Arrington’s groin will be good to go. Dennard reportedly had a procedure on his meniscus, so despite the fact that he was practicing on Wednesday, his chances for Sunday night are looking bleak at best.
In a worst-case scenario, Talib’s hip won’t be fine, Gregory won’t be able to play with a cast, Dennard will be out and Arrington’s groin will flare up yet again in game. So who’s left?
McCourty will still patrol the deep half of the field, Logan Ryan and Marquice Cole will be thrust into starting roles, Harmon will play next to McCourty and Nate Ebner will be back in the “money” role in dime that he was playing against Carolina. The Patriots will also probably have to make some roster moves since Tavon Wilson is the only defensive back on the 53-man roster we haven’t listed yet.
Ras-I Dowling is currently toiling away on the Jets’ practice squad. He gets hurt often, but he knows the defense and only probably needs to stay healthy for one game. Moore is a free agent, last having played for the Cowboys. He knows the defense too and can play (or has played) cornerback and safety. There’s also always Edelman and Slater, too — though I don’t think anyone wants to see them back in the defensive backfield.
New England is fortunately home on Sunday night. And after Monday night’s debacle, it will be ultra important to get back in the win column.
Welker is currently dealing with a concussion, and no matter how much everyone who follows the Patriots wants to see the slot receiver’s grand comeback to Foxboro, it may be in the best interest of the Patriots to see Andre Caldwell playing that role instead.
The Broncos were already a tough matchup. But it has become even more difficult with so many injuries in the secondary. No one wants to hear it, but New England could be sitting at 7-4 after Week 12.
For the Patriots to win, Tom Brady has to win the shootout in Manning-Brady XIV.