The Patriots have some questions at outside linebacker. Beyond Tully Banta-Cain, the other OLBs on the roster (Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham and Shawn Crable) have 3 game starts between them. Against the terrible tackles of the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots barely generated any pressure. Neither the defensive linemen, nor the outside linebackers picked up a sack against the Bills. Only inside linebacker Jerod Mayo managed to grab a sack.
However, one outside linebacker player very well- 2nd round draft pick Jermaine Cunningham. The two times he bull rushed his blocker towards Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fitz threw interceptions. He clearly has potential and will only become better the more he sees the field. However, the Patriots must still utilize the talent of Banta-Cain. Current starter Ninkovich still deserves playing time and Crable played well enough in his first NFL game. What should the Patriots do?
The Patriots should start playing Tully Banta-Cain at ROLB and Jermaine Cunningham at LOLB. Banta-Cain will be able to continue his pass-rushing presence and should continue to be a strong run stopper on the right side of the defense. Cunningham should be allowed to continue his learning process of the 3-4 OLB position on the left side of the field. Since Ron Brace has been elevated to defensive line starter, opposing running backs have started to attack the left side of the defense. Cunningham, as the largest OLB, should be able to support Brace in the run defense and should continue to create pressure.
Ninkovich should be moved down the depth chart to Banta-Cain's back-up. He still can play and should see plenty of time as Banta-Cain is rested. Ninkovich is still a strong player and will excel as the top OLB substitute. He is the Mike Wright of the outside linebackers- he has the ability to be a great sub, but when he's elevated to a starting position, his weaknesses are revealed. Crable should continue to be the LOLB back-up and learn how to play football again.
Cunningham has shown some great flashes and needs to stay on the field- and I think the Patriots defense would greatly improve if he was across from Banta-Cain.