A trio of New England Patriots stars have not been practicing this week, and all three of them were not in attendance during today’s final practice of the week before Sunday’s AFC East showdown in south Florida against the Miami Dolphins. Left guard Logan Mankins and tight end Rob Gronkowski are the two unsurprising inactives, but it is certainly terrible news to hear that Chandler Jones will not be facing off against Jake Long and the Dolphins.
Jones has been out since injuring his ankle early in the blowout victory over the Indianapolis Colts, and the suspension of Jermaine Cunningham puts a further strain on the Pats pass rush. The starting RE spot will most likely be occupied by above-average veteran Trevor Scott, who stepped up as the sub-package pass rusher with Jones out. Now, he needs to rise up and turn back the clock by invoking his best days with the Oakland Raiders in the meantime.
Gronkowski could return in Week 14 against the Houston Texans, but he will most likely return in Week 16 (or later if they want to rest him against easy competition). I hope he doesn’t return too soon, because Gronk definitely needs the rest. But even more so, I hope he fully recovers from the broken arm in time to face against the dominant San Francisco 49ers.
The Patriots will need to manufacture pressure from the OLBs with blitzing schemes this week, just as they did against the New York Jets on Thanksgiving. Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower produced with a sack apiece. Mayo is an underrated pass rusher, and Hightower can be a solid blitzing SLB when the Pats need him to be. I want to see him get some more chances to go after the QB, especially when that player is rookie Ryan Tannehill.
Donald Thomas will once again start for Logan Mankins, and the New Haven native has been excellent all year. He is a good starter in this league, and the Patriots are blessed to have a guard of his caliber as a backup.
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