The New England Patriots’ rash of injuries this season were valuable in exposing the team’s biggest game-changers.
The Patriots’ passing offense seemed lost at times without wide receiver Julian Edelman, and their run defense suffered greatly without linebacker Dont’a Hightower. That’s why Edelman and Hightower, more so than any other injured Patriots, are the most important players to get back on the field for the playoffs for the playoffs.
It became obvious just how underrated Edelman is to the Patriots’ offense when he went down with a foot injury in Week 10. Many believed the Patriots would be able to plug Danny Amendola into Edelman’s role, but that simply hasn’t been the case. The Patriots’ offense hasn’t been the same without Edelman, and there’s been a trickle-down effect after losing the shifty “Z” receiver.
Check out how the Patriots’ offense has performed with and without Edelman:
The Patriots’ completion percentage drops nearly 10 points, their passer rating drops nine points, Brady is sacked at a higher rate and their average yards per play drops by 2.7 yards.
Perhaps what’s most glaring is how poorly the Patriots have performed on third down without Edelman. The Patriots’ third-down conversion rate dropped by 16.1 percent.
Brady had a 113.5 passer rating while targeting Edelman, completing 71.8 percent of his passes for 692 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady also was able to get rid of the ball much quicker with Edelman, which made the Patriots’ offensive line issues much less glaring.
It took Brady an average of just 2.10 seconds to release the ball in Weeks 1 through 9. It took him 2.44 seconds to release the ball since Week 10, when Edelman left the game at the end of the first quarter.
Edelman might not be a cure-all for the Patriots’ offensive issues, but it’s obvious his absence has made a major difference with the Patriots going 3-4 without him.
The Patriots still will be without Dion Lewis and Nate Solder, but having Edelman, Amendola and Rob Gronkowski on the field at the same time should allow the Patriots to flip a switch for the playoffs.
Hightower is equally important to the Patriots’ run defense and pass rush.
Check out how the Patriots’ defense has fared this season with and without their starting linebacker:
The Patriots allow .85 more yards per carry and .5 more yard per play when Hightower is off the field. They sack the quarterback on 8.6 percent of passing plays with Hightower and just 6.6 percent when he’s not in the game.
Hightower missed the Patriots’ Week 6 win over the Indianapolis Colts with a rib injury. He injured his knee midway through the Patriots’ Week 12 loss to the Denver Broncos, missed Week 13 and Week 14, came back for Week 15 before aggravating the injury in Week 16 and being declared out for Week 17. The Patriots are 2-2 in games Hightower sat out and 3-4 in games Hightower has either been out or missed time because of injury.
Hightower provides pressure on 22.4 percent of his 116 pass rushing snaps with 3.5 sacks, six QB hits and 16 hurries.
Of course, it will be valuable for the Patriots to get left tackle Sebastian Vollmer, defensive end Chandler Jones and many other players healthy for the postseason, but Edelman and Hightower have proven to be indispensable.
Stats via Evan Lazar of ProFootballCentral.com
Thumbnail photos via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images