Tom Brady is the last man standing as the 2015 New England Patriots continue to imitate the “Final Destination” film franchise.
Brady has seen nearly every top player in the Patriots’ offense fall to injury at some point this season, but he keeps chugging along.
The Patriots have 17 players on injured reserve, including former starting cornerback Tarell Brown, fullback James Develin, wide receiver Aaron Dobson, defensive tackles Dominique Easley and Chris Jones, running back Dion Lewis, left tackle Nate Solder and guard Ryan Wendell. Running back LeGarrette Blount also reportedly is heading to IR after injuring his hip Sunday night.
Wide receivers Danny Amendola (knee) and Julian Edelman (foot), tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee), offensive tackles Marcus Cannon (toe) and Sebastian Vollmer (concussion), guards Tre’ Jackson (knee) and Josh Kline (shoulder), center Bryan Stork (concussion/neck), defensive end Jabaal Sheard (ankle), linebackers Jamie Collins (illness), Dont’a Hightower (knee) and Jonanthan Freeny (hand), cornerback Justin Coleman (hand) and safety Devin McCourty (ankle) also have missed time with injuries this season. Whew. That’s a long list.
The Patriots were tied for having the second-most players on their 53-man roster at some point this season, as of Monday, according to SBNation’s Rich Hill. That number likely will grow, since the Patriots will have two open spots on their 53-man roster.
Easley and Blount are the latest Patriots to go down with season-ending injuries, and multiple players will have to step up in their stead.
Blount will be the 29th running back to hit injured reserve so far this season, making it one of the most shallow positions in the NFL. Fourth-year Patriot Brandon Bolden was the first player to get a crack at the Patriots’ starting role when Blount went down Sunday night, but the Patriots have been hesitant to give the Ole Miss product the reins to a starting role in the past. His value on special teams likely has a lot to do with that.
Bolden has never received more than 17 touches in a game, and his 16 touches against the Texans were the second-most of his four-year career. Bolden has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his career and relies on big plays. He already has a 63-yard touchdown reception this year.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick specifically praised Bolden’s vision and power on this run from Sunday night during a conference call Tuesday:
Bolden is the safe bet to take over Blount’s early-down role, but history suggests that might not be the case. There isn’t really another option on the Patriots’ 53-man roster at this point, though.
James White is a solid option as a sub-package back, with 26 receptions for 248 yards with two touchdowns this season, but hasn’t shown the ability to run between the tackles in his brief NFL career. He has 25 carries for just 79 yards in two seasons and is averaging 2.6 yards per carry this season.
The Patriots added Montee Ball to their practice squad Tuesday. The Patriots could elect to sign him if he performs well in practice this week. They also have pass-catching running back Trey Williams and fullback Joey Iosefa on their practice squad.
It’s typically difficult to predict how the Patriots will use their running backs, but with just two currently on the roster, there’s an element of process by elimination on display.
The Patriots will have to readjust their rotation at defensive tackle after Easley’s season-ending thigh injury. The Patriots have used Malcom Brown, Alan Branch, Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga on early downs and inserted Easley into obvious passing situations as the lone defensive tackle with defensive ends Chandler Jones, Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich.
Hicks had 6 1/2 sacks in 2013 and 2014 with the New Orleans Saints and shined in the third and fourth quarter after taking over for Easley against the Texans with two sacks and two quarterback hits, including this one:
The Patriots could insert Hicks on third down and use Siliga, who has been a healthy scratch twice this season, in the early-down role. Easley generated pressure on 12.6 percent of pass-rushing opportunities, while Hicks is at 10.9 percent on the season. The Patriots also could use rookie defensive lineman Geneo Grissom in Easley’s old role, as they did in Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Grissom is generating pressure on just 5.6 percent of pass-rushing snaps this season, however.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Nov 8, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden (38) reacts after scoring a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium. The New England Patriots won 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports