Inside the Pylon spoke with former NFL scout, and director of The Scouting Academy, Dan Hatman, about the New England Patriots WR injury crisis at wide receiver, and how they may attempt to overcome it against the Denver Broncos.
Injuries affect every NFL team; from San Diego’s banged up offense, to Pittsburgh’s injury woes with Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell, teams need to adapt and overcome. The Patriots are no different, having coped with an injury plague at both tackle spots, and now faced with overcoming the loss of three key players in the passing game; Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola.
With only a few healthy bodies on the roster, the pro personnel staff really earns their money. We’re 12 weeks in and players that were veterans with solid skill sets have already been absorbed at this point due to injury, like Wes Welker in St. Louis.
The Patriots staff are likely already scouring the 31 other practice squads for wide receiver talent and depth . Practice squad players are ideal since you know they are in good shape since they have remained with a team.
The Patriots do such a good job of consistently bringing players in for workouts during the course of the year. Their “emergency lists” are already stocked. They know the players. They’ve spoken with them, they’ve brought them in, and worked them out. They’ve spoken with the agents, so those conversations are already teed up. If they do decide to go with a veteran, they most likely go with someone they’ve already vetted earlier in the season.
The Patriots promoted the only wide receiver on their practice squad roster, Chris Harper, prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills, leaving no internal options at the position. It is highly unlikely that in a short-week of preparation that a team will add someone from outside the organization directly to the active roster, so it seems likely the pass catching reinforcements may be limited to current practice squad tight ends Joseph Fauria or Asante Cleveland, or possibly fullback Joey Iosefa.
The question now becomes: what do they do in terms of tight end packages to compensate? Clearly they’ve used upwards of four tight ends in certain situations, typically in short yardage and goal line. Can they leverage that in other areas? Ideally, they would like to spread out Wade Phillips‘ defense with 11 personnel and have the option to pass or run the ball.
Josh McDaniels might consider promoting a guy like Fauria ‒ who is similar to Scott Chandler ‒ and going with 13 or 14 personnel groups, because of the potential matchup you can get with Rob Gronkowski split out wide against man coverage.
Here is an example of what can happen with Gronkowski isolated out-wide (11 personnel):
Unfortunately, as nice as it is to have the big bodies in there, by going into heavy personnel and keeping them all tight in the formation, they will be exposing the run game to the teeth of the Denver defense. Running room between the tackles will be tight.
Also, you’re looking at guys like Marcus Cannon having to protect Tom Brady against a voracious pass rush, so having those tight ends allows the Patriots to use some big bodies in pass protection. Heavy formations can decrease the speed of those guys coming off the edge, providing Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer a much better chance at protecting.
Follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Hatman
Dan Hatman is the Director of The Scouting Academy and writes for Inside The Pylon when not teaching future football scouts and coaches how to do their job.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.