The New England Patriots entered Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers with three of their offensive starters out due to injury: tight end Rob Gronkowski is dealing with back and ankle issues, running back Sony Michel hurt his knee two weeks ago, and right guard Shaq Mason suffered a calf injury last week. Despite absences, however, the unit did not appear to skip too big of a beat and hung 31 points on the Packers.
This, in turn, is a testament to the Patriots’ offensive depth and next-man-up mentality. Take the running back position, as an illustration of that. Long-term injuries to Jeremy Hill and Rex Burkhead as well as Michel’s aforementioned knee issue left the team with just two true backs on its 53-man roster: James White and Kenjon Barner, both of which better suited to serve as change of pace and receiving backs.
“We thought we had good depth at running back and we did at one point in the year,” Patriot head coach Bill Belichick said during his press conference after yesterday’s game. “Depth in August and depth in November are two different things. We have what we have now and hopefully that’ll improve.” What Belichick’s team has now is wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson leading the team in rushing attempts the last two weeks.
For the former first-round draft pick, however, this situation does not appear to be an issue: “I mean, it’s the next man up — it’s the NFL,” Patterson said after yesterday’s game against Green Bay that saw him register 11 carries for a team-high 61 yards as well as a touchdown. “If you can play, you can play. We didn’t like that the guys weren’t ready, but every guy is going to step up because this is our job. This is our life.”
Patterson’s productivity did not happen by accident: his big-play ability is well known and has been on display multiple times over the course of his five-year career. Given the shortage at the running back position, the Patriots have now decided to use this for their advantage and to create depth at a position of need. It’s the same at Gronkowski’s tight end spot with fullback James Develin serving as a rotational option, or along the offensive line where backups LaAdrian Waddle and Ted Karras recently had to start.
“You got injuries, you got all the stuff you have to deal with,” running backs coach Ivan Fears said last week. Wide receiver Julian Edelman echoed this sentiment after yesterday’s win against the Packers: “We got a lot of playmakers. It’ll be good to have [Rob Gronkowski and Sony Michel] back when they get back. Until then, we just have to keep going out and try to do what we got to do to win games.”
New England did just that yesterday. Whether it was Patterson seeing regular carries, or Dwayne Allen and James Develin serving as the tight end depth chart, or Ted Karras filling in at right guard, the Patriots were able to continue moving along as if nothing had happened. This speaks for their depth, their preparation, and for their outlook this season: few if any teams in the league have the roster composition and high-quality coaching staff to deal with injuries atop the depth chart.
“What looks like good depth can get washed away in a hurry,” Belichick said yesterday when emphasizing the need for a broad roster. “Sometimes you have guys step in where you think you might not have depth and they step in and play to a level that maybe you didn’t quite anticipate, then things look a lot better in a hurry whether it’s at that position or somewhere else. That’s the National Football League.”
During the Patriots’ 31-17 victory against the Packers, this all was on full display: New England’s depth options did their jobs when asked to deliver and allowed the team to stay on course despite the recent run of injuries.