After starting the season 1-2, the New England Patriots have rattled off four wins in a row, the latest a 38-31 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field.
The return of Julian Edelman and the acquisition of Josh Gordon have boosted a Patriots offense that was underwhelming during the early part of the season. New England’s defense still has its fair share of issues, but that isn’t the Patriots’ biggest problem, according to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.
Barnwell published an article Monday discussing the “biggest flaw” in 11 teams who are considered Super Bowl contenders, and surprisingly, Barnwell did not view New England’s below-average linebacking corps or Rob Gronkowski’s creaky back — although he admitted that’s reason for concern — as the biggest issue.
Instead, he pointed to the backfield.
The Pats lost Jeremy Hill to a torn ACL in Week 1 and put Rex Burkhead on injured reserve with a neck injury after Week 3. They entered their Week 7 tilt against the Bears with rookie Sony Michel, James White and Kenjon Barner on the active roster, but Michel left the game with a knee injury, leaving New England rather short-handed in the backfield.
Michel’s injury reportedly is not as serious as initially thought, but Barnwell noted that an injury to White would be crippling for the Patriots, regardless of Michel’s status.
Will the Patriots get concerned about their running back issues? Absolutely not. If any team is comfortable substituting running backs from practice squads across the NFL, it’s the Patriots, who have spent most of Bill Belichick’s tenure getting by with midround draft picks and afterthoughts at halfback. The need for an effective back might be more pressing with Rob Gronkowski injured and more possible touches to go around, but Belichick knows his offense makes the back and not the other way around.
At this point, outside of Gronkowski’s back, the biggest thing that might give the Pats pause would be an injury to White. He has been an extremely valuable player for the Patriots over the past three postseasons, and it’s fair to wonder whether the Patriots have limited his workload some to keep him fresh for January. There’s no hiding White this season, and Barner would be a pale replacement if the Pats somehow also lost White to an injury.
Tom Brady and Co. will look to move to 6-2 on the season when they face the lowly Buffalo Bills in Week 8.