EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – As the Patriots get set to face their AFC East division rival, questions linger over the team’s depth at key positions.
Here’s what we’ll be watching as the Patriots face the New York Jets.
1. The Jerod Mayo replacement — Either Jamie Collins or Dane Fletcher, or possibly a combination of both, will replace Mayo’s snaps on defense. Collins certainly provides some athleticism while Fletcher has experience as a starter.
2. Rob Gronkowski’s impact — First, will he even play? Second, what will he be able to do? If Gronkowski is active, we’ll be watching his actions very closely because, of course, it will be his first game in more than nine months.
3. Offensive rhythm — The Patriots had a poor outing against the Jets their first time around, going 0 for 3 in the red zone and recording six three-and-outs. Tom Brady completed 49 percent of his throws. Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were targeted 17 times in the game while catching only five passes, struggling to get on the same page as their quarterback. A lot has changed since then, both in terms of their growth and opportunities. It will be interesting to see that growth materialize itself against a tough opponent like the Jets.
4. Without Aqib Talib, who will make the big plays? — Talib has been the defense’s star and savior on numerous occasions, including in the Patriots’ first matchup with the Jets. He recorded an interception in the final minute of play to seal New England’s 13-10 win. With Talib out, that will mean increased snaps for Kyle Arrington, Duron Harmon, and even Logan Ryan. This is a great opportunity for one of them, or all of them, to step up and make some plays in Talib’s stead. It would go a long way to building confidence on the back end of the team’s depth chart.
5. How healthy is this team on the line — Right guard Dan Connolly (concussion), offensive lineman Marcus Cannon (shoulder), special teams ace Matthew Slater (wrist), wide receiver Julian Edelman (thigh), tight end Michael Hoomanawanui (knee), and running back Brandon Bolden (knee) are all listed as questionable for the game. But Connolly and Cannon’s injuries are especially concerning, considering they both provide good versatility on the offensive line and are the first two options at right guard. Will Svitek, who missed time with a knee injury, is the next best alternative. But the last thing the Patriots want to do is go into Sunday’s game thin on the line when facing a Jets team that has recorded 20 sacks this season. So how healthy are they? We’ll see.