The New England Patriots picked a bad time to lose one of their top two receivers to injury.
The Patriots play perhaps the best secondary they’ll face all season Sunday night when they take on the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. And quarterback Tom Brady will have to combat cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby and safeties Justin Simmons and Darian Stewart without the assistance of wide receiver Chris Hogan, who is out with a shoulder injury.
What does this mean for the Patriots’ offense? Well, the difficulty level certainly has been raised for Brady, who now will have to rely on wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola and Phillip Dorsett, none of whom are over 5-foot-11, more heavily. The Patriots’ fourth wide receiver will be special teams ace Matthew Slater.
Among those three receivers, expect Amendola to receive the biggest boost from Hogan’s absence. Amendola likely still won’t play 100 percent of snaps — or even come close — but when he’s on the field, Brady will be looking his way with frequency.
Brady also will have to rely on running backs James White, Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis more in the passing game. The Patriots’ running backs produced more than 160 yards through the air in Week 8. Brady might have to key in on them just as much Sunday night. Tight end Rob Gronkowski also could get more targets.
Will Brady actually throw to tight end Dwayne Allen, who hasn’t received a target since Week 4, in this game? That depends on whether Martellus Bennett plays or not. Bennett was claimed off waivers Thursday and practiced Friday. He made the trip to Colorado with the Patriots, and now we’ll find out Sunday night if A) he’s healthy enough to play with his torn rotator cuff, and B) if he reacclimated to the playbook quickly enough in such a short span.
Getting Bennett on the field even in goal-line situations would help the Patriots. Hogan was one of the few bright spots in the red zone for New England this season, and without him, the Patriots could struggle even more.
It sure would make a fun story if Bennett plays, as well. Bennett said Friday he wanted to get shoulder surgery while still with the Green Bay Packers. Yeah, he practiced with the Patriots the same day. So it certainly would raise some eyebrows if he actually saw action.
Dorsett remains an intriguing option in the Patriots’ passing game, but until we see him targeted more than three times in a game, it would be a fool’s errand to predict big things from the former Indianapolis Colt. All it would take is one big catch for Dorsett, with his 4.31-second 40-yard-dash speed, to make an impact.
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