Whether New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman is done for the regular season or for the full year, the team is going to have to find a way to replace his production. In a vacuum, losing Edelman isn't complete devastation with Danny Amendola in the wings.
This isn't a vacuum. This hurts.
The Patriots are already hurting at the skill positions with the season-ending ACL injury to running back Dion Lewis. There is just no single player on the roster that can replicate what Lewis offers. Factor in the injuries to the offensive line, which leads offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to dial up quick passing plays, and the need for multiple short range receivers increases greatly.
Lewis was replaced with a mix of LeGarrette Blount, James White, Brandon Bolden, and Amendola. All of these players flexed in and out of the backfield and helped to pick up the pass rush, a skill of Lewis that was very underrated. The fact that the Patriots have to use multiple players to replace one means that the offense is less multiple at any given time because they have to substitute, allowing defenses time to adjust.
But this isn't the end of the Patriots offense. They'll replace and move forward, even if there is a marginal decrease in the offensive production.
|X||Aaron Dobson||Brandon LaFell|
|Z||Julian Edelman||Keshawn Martin|
|S||Danny Amendola||Danny Amendola|
|Y||Rob Gronkowski||Rob Gronkowski|
|R||LeGarrette Blount||LeGarrette Blount|
|3D||Dion Lewis||James White|
The Patriots are extremely capable of moving forward with a potent offense, but it will require a simple adjustment: crack open the 2011 playbook.
In 2011, the Patriots reached the Super Bowl with Wes Welker (122/1529/9) and Rob Gronkowski (90/1327/17) putting up herculean efforts, as Aaron Hernandez (79/910/7) was the next top receiver. The 32-year-old Deion Branch also contributed (51/702/5).
Instead of moving Amendola into Edelman's now vacant roster spot, the Patriots should leave Amendola where he is, but just change his function in the offense. Martin, who has been battling an injury, proved himself capable of functioning within the Patriots offense earlier in the year. He won't replace Julian Edelman's production, but he can provide value as the fourth option in the offense.
Alternatively, the Patriots could use Brandon LaFell to replace Julian Edelman in the offense, while Aaron Dobson remains on the outside. LaFell was the "Z" when he was in Carolina, while Brady and Dobson have a pretty good rapport. Dobson seems to get open quite frequently. This might actually be the best usage of the raw talent on the roster, although this package might be limited until the offensive line gets back to full strength.
Really, the biggest weakness on the Patriots offense is the line play. Bryan Stork was manhandled against the Giants, through no fault of his own, and the tight ends were required to stay closer to the line to help block. The return of Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon (hopefully this week to left and right tackle, respectively), will let the Patriots play with their best line and will open up the offensive playbook.
The next biggest loss is still not Edelman, in this view. He is tremendous at his role and I consider him a legitimate top 15 wide receiver in this league. I think that the loss of Lewis affects the team more because it left the Patriots with single-faceted backs that limit the offensive flexibility. Maybes James White can grow more into the role this week, but don't be surprised if the Patriots add a veteran like Pierre Thomas that can run, catch, and block at a level slightly better than Brandon Bolden.
This Patriots offense doesn't end with the (hopefully temporary) loss of Edelman, although you'd have to be a fool to think it doesn't hurt. Having Edelman as the #1 target and Amendola as the #4 is always going to be better than having Amendola as the #1 and Dobson as the #4.
But New England has enough talent to compensate at wide receiver, and a deep enough playbook to make adjustments to better fit the skill sets of the remaining players.
Amendola is not Edelman. White is not Lewis. They don't have to be in order for this offense to keep moving forward.