The New England Patriots have ended the seasons of defensive tackle Dominique Easley and running back LeGarrette Blount, boosting their number of players on reserve to tie the Baltimore Ravens with a league-high 19 players. Patscap's Miguel notes that the NFL Players Association includes receiver Josh Boyce and tackle Kevin Hughes in their salary cap as being on reserve, even if the two players aren't listed elsewhere.
We've highlighted how the Patriots injuries make the team an anomaly, as New England has twice as many games lost to injury as any other team currently vying for a bye week in the playoffs. The Patriots and Ravens couldn't be on more different ends of the spectrum this season, yet they've seen similar quantities of injuries this year. The big difference has been the permanence of the injury.
The Ravens lost starting safety Matt Elam, starting tight end Dennis Pitta, and starting edge defender Terrell Suggs for the season back in or before week 1. None of the players the Patriots lost that early on were considered starters, even though rookie cornerback Darryl Roberts was competing for the starting position next to Malcolm Butler, and fullback James Develin has really been missed in the offense.
Baltimore also lost starting quarterback Joe Flacco, starting running back Justin Forsett, starting wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., starting tackle Eugene Monroe, and starting center Jeremy Zuttah with season ending injuries. To top it off, the Ravens also lost pretty much all of their replacement receivers, as Michael Campanaro was lost for the year and rookie Breshad Perriman never even started.
New England has been in a different position with more temporary injuries to key starters, and devastating injuries to depth players. Starting receiver Brandon LaFell and center Bryan Stork both started the season on reserves, but have been active and playing. Linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins have both missed time, but should be expected to play for the rest of the season. Tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon overlapped with missing time, but they are both back in the line-up. Offensive players Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Rob Gronkowski all have temporary injuries, but should be back at 100% for the playoffs.
When we look at the players lost, there's a distinction between key 2015 players and just overall projected key players. Losing captain offensive lineman and multi-year Ryan Wendell hurts, but his loss is less than losing starting left tackle Nate Solder. In a similar vein, losing Wendell hurts more than losing the projected impact of a Dane Fletcher or a Rufus Johnson.
Of the definite 2015 starters that are out for the season, the Patriots have lost left tackle Nate Solder, cornerback Tarell Brown, running backs Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Key role players include fullback James Develin, wide receiver Aaron Dobson, and guard Ryan Wendell.
While these losses definitely hurt, the Patriots have been fortunate that their other injuries have been more minor and that elite players like Hightower, Collins, Gronkowski, and Edelman will all return to the field.
Vollmer and Cannon have stepped up in Solder's place, Logan Ryan has excelled in the place of Brown, and Akiem Hicks is expected to assume the pass rushing role vacated by Easley. The most glaring hole is at running back, which will have to be filled by a mix of Brandon Bolden, James White, and some player picked up off the street.
The fact that the running back position is the only role that doesn't have depth to handle the injuries- and that the Patriots had to lose two running backs to reach this point- is a testament to Bill Belichick's roster building, but also due to serious injury luck and injury maintenance.
New England has been very intentional with the management of injuries to ensure a player's availability later in the year. While the Patriots are mentioned in the same breath as the Ravens, the magnitude of the injuries suffered by Baltimore are a degree or two greater.