Injuries have not been kind to the Patriots this season, especially their front seven. Things got worse this past week when they finally placed DL Mike Wright on injured reserve. Wright hadn't played since Week 10, but since he had yet to land on I.R., the thought was that he might return. Wright joins Ron Brace and Ty Warren as top Patriots D-linemen on I.R.
But what the injuries have done is allow rookies Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick to step up and get a lot of playing time. Vince Wilfork has played on the end, as well as the nose, and earned his Pro Bowl nod.
With that said, though, the line has an extremely tough task on Sunday, and it cannot afford the type of mini-letdowns we saw against Green Bay and Buffalo to conclude the season.
Love, Deaderick, Wilfork and Myron Pryor are all big bodies who should hold up against the run and allow Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes to come through to finish off LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Eric Moore will spend some time at the DE spot, but he is more of a pass rusher.
Against the Packers (keep in mind, no Spikes then), the Patriots allowed 143 yards on 38 carries. The two backs, Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn, combined for a 4.3-yard rushing average. The Packers only lost that game by four.
Against the Bills in Week 16, Fred Jackson ran all over the Pats' depleted D-line on the first drive of the game, including a 27-yard gain. The Bills ran for 125 yards on a 6.0-yard rushing average but went away from the run game early.
Both those teams showed that the Patriots' D-line can be taken advantage of. Sure, the Pats fixed things and found ways to improve as the games went along, but they don't have the luxury of time on Sunday. It's win or go home. If the Jets' O-line is able to manhandle the two Patriots rookies and Pryor, it could be a long day. Wilfork and Mayo can only do so much. Against the Browns, when the two Pro Bowlers were neutralized, Peyton Hillis rushed for 184 yards on 29 carries (6.3 average).
A successful Jets rushing attack puts the Patriots' secondary on its heels and keeps Tom Brady off the field. The D-line has been exposed before for its lack of depth, and if the Pats want to avoid getting upset, that unit will need to win its individual battles in Foxborough on Sunday.