The likelihood of Patriots rookie wide receiver continues to decrease as he's yet to step on the practice field. He's been nursing a foot injury as the Patriots hope they can find a way to beat the Colts without him.
Dobson represents the red zone size the Patriots have needed, but he's only played a handful of snaps since Rob Gronkowski was sidelined in Week 12. Aaron managed 54 snaps in Week 16 against Baltimore (with only one reception) and managed 17 snaps in Week 17 against Buffalo before reinjuring his foot. Between those two games, Tom Brady targeted him six times, with Dobson able to pull down two for receptions (no drops, the misses were on Brady).
When the Patriots had Dobson, they didn't have Gronkowski. When they didn't have Gronkowski, they also lost Dobson. We have zero idea of how this Patriots team would look like with Dobson on the field because weeks 2-5 are aeons ago in comparison.
So what are the Patriots to do? They have no size on their offense without Dobson. They have Kenbrell Thompkins as their largest wide receiver (at 6'1), but he's been hurt and has only 121 snaps over the final 9 games of the season (roughly the same number of snaps that Austin Collie has played with the Patriots this season). Expect Thompkins to have a role. Don't bank on him being the game changer.
And if the Patriots try to get their tight ends more involved, they have Michael Hoomanawanui; but this is crunch time. The Patriots can't feel comfortable rolling out new plays, even if they spent the whole bye week working on them.
So where does that leave the Patriots, beyond some light pass attempts towards Thompkins and Hoomanawanui?
There's Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Austin Collie. Three players, roughly 5'11, roughly 200 lbs. Per Pro Football Focus, they're the three highest graders receivers on the Patriots. Edelman and Amendola are 1/2 in both targets, receptions, and yards. Collie is a solid blocker.
Brady can make things happen with these players to move the ball down the field, but someone is going to have to step up if the Patriots are going to make the most of their red zone trips. The most likely?
Edelman, Shane Vereen, and LeGarrette Blount.
Over the final quarter of the season, no one had more opportunities than Vereen, notching 8 targets (although he only brought down 4) and 2 carries for 32 yards and 3 touchdowns. Blount out-touched every other player on the roster in the red zone, getting 9 carries for 20 yards and 2 touchdowns. Edelman came in third with 7 targets, 4 receptions, 20 yards, and 1 touchdown.
Behind them, Amendola, Hoomanawanui, and Stevan Ridley each had three chances of their own.
The Patriots have realized that they don't have the size two beat defenses in the receiving game, so they're running rub routes to get their two shiftiest players- Edelman and Vereen- in the open space. Cleanly get the ball in their hands and they'll pick up some yards, every single time. Blount brings the power and and improved game to try and bowl his way into the end zone.
If and when the Patriots score, it's not going to be pretty or the result of a one, grandiose play. They're going to have to keep chipping away at the Colts and try and get their players in space. And they'll have to use their size (or lack thereof) to their advantage.