The whispers are getting louder. First came news that Chandler Jones missed a couple of practices. Then the news was that Chandler Jones was going to miss up to a month with a hip injury. Now, speculation is flying that Chandler Jones may miss the remainder of the season. Chandler Jones.
This is the Patriots’ version of losing Lawrence Taylor. Jones is far and away the Patriots best pass rusher. Nobody even compares. As a matter of fact, he may be the Patriots’ best pass rusher since Andre Tippett. Jones wasn’t even born when Tippett played. That’s how long it’s been since New England had a feared pass rusher.
The Patriots could afford to lose Jerod Mayo this year, as well as last year. They survived losing Vince Wilfork last year. It wasn’t easy, but they did it. Not having Wilfork or Mayo was not the reason the Patriots lost in the AFC Championship Game. They cannot afford to lose Jones.
The NFL is a pass-happy league now. The rules are geared to promote passing. Defenses need pass rushers and cover defenders. Mayo and Wilfork, while great players, are run-stuffers. Jones led the Patriots with 11.5 sacks last year. Rob Ninkovich was second with eight and Chris Jones was third with six. No one else had more than three. That’s alarming.
Jones may have a low number of sacks (4.5– still the team-best) this year, but he has been in the face of quarterbacks on a consistent basis. In his third year with the Patriots, Jones has grown into a leader on the defense.
So who will replace Jones? The answer is nobody. There is nobody on the roster — and, definitely, nobody on the street — that can do 80% of what Jones can do on the field. Ninkovich is a nice player who can rush the quarterback, but nowhere as consistently as Jones. Even if Ninkovich could fill Jones’ void, who would fill Ninkovich’s? The Jones injury causes a chain reaction which challenges the depth of an already shallow defensive front seven.
The Patriots did invest a first round draft pick last year on a pass rushing defensive end. Dominique Easley, however, has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness. He will be the one who will be expected to step up. He has higher upside than, say, a Zach Moore. Easley just hasn’t shown signs that he is up to the challenge.
The interesting player to keep an eye on will be Akeem Ayers– who the Patriots acquired (along with a seventh-round pick) from the Tennessee Titans for a sixth-round pick this past week. Ayers had fallen out of favor in Tennessee and was a healthy scratch in five of the Titans’ seven games this season. Ayers is still only 25 years old and is a former second round pick. In 2012, he had six sacks and had a combined 104 tackles. He has, however, had recent surgery on both knees. He still remains the best chance New England has of filling Jones’ void.
The Patriots enter a tough six-game stretch where their pass defense will be stiffly tested. While Jones is sidelined, the Patriots will have to deal with Jay Cutler, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, and Philip Rivers.