On Sunday, the New England Patriots will open their season on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. A tough game given the opponent, the traveling distance and the fact that quarterback Tom Brady won’t play. It looks like the game got even harder.
According to a Patriots’ press release, the team has downgraded tight end Rob Gronkowski, offensive tackle Nate Solder and offensive guard Jonathan Cooper to ‘out’. If they had bern healthy, at least two of the three would have played extensive snaps.
There is no way to sugarcoat it: this is a huge blow to New England’s chances of winning the game. Gronkowski, who has missed the majority of last four weeks with a hamstring issue, is a game-changing player, capable of influencing the complexion of the offense. Now, the Patriots and first-time starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have to rely on backup Martellus Bennett to lead the attack at tight end.
The team will also have to face one of the NFL’s best defenses without starting left tackle Nate Solder, who is also dealing with a hamstring injury. He is the Patriots’ best and most consistent option at the position and his backup - either LaAdrian Waddle or Cameron Fleming - will have his hands full. Don’t be surprised if New England opts to play an increased number of six-men lines to give the new left tackle help and consequently Garoppolo better protection.
The least notable of the three deactivations is Jonathan Cooper, he of battling plantar fascitis. The former Cardinal has missed the majority of training camp due to the injury and has not yet practiced fully since returning. This means that Shaq Mason, himself coming off a broken hand, or rookie Ted Karras will see a lot of playing time at right guard.
While the three deactivations hurt the chances of the Patriots’ winning Sunday’s game, letting the three players get additional rest is certainly the best decision for the team and the players.