If the Patriots are going to respond to their Week 1 loss to the Chiefs with a win in New Orleans, they're going to need to overcome three key injuries. On Friday, the Patriots ruled out three key players for their Week 2 game against the Saints on Sunday.
Those three players:
- Linebacker Dont'a Hightower (knee)
- Receiver Danny Amendola (concussion/knee)
- Special teams player Matthew Slater (hamstring)
Nose tackle Vincent Valentine has also been ruled out with a knee injury, but let's focus on those three players above -- because they're all really important to the Patriots.
Hightower is the most important member of the Patriots' front-seven, a group that's lost a few key members in recent years, from Chandler Jones to Jamie Collins to Akiem Hicks. Since the Patriots jettisoned Collins to Cleveland, they've used Hightower more and more on the edge as a pass rusher. He left in the third quarter of the Patriots' Week 1 loss with a reported minor MCL sprain and in the fourth quarter, the Patriots were roasted for 21 points.
The Patriots' linebackers are generally slow and ineffective. Hightower is the exception. As I wrote on Thursday, the Patriots might be in trouble without him on Sunday. Look for the Saints to target the Patriots' linebackers in coverage and if Drew Brees has time to sit back in a clean pocket, he'll do what Alex Smith did last week.
The loss of Amendola is only a big deal because the Patriots are already missing Julian Edelman, who won't return this season. Last week, Amendola shined, catching six of his seven targets for 100 yards. Without Edelman and now Amendola (and with Rob Gronkowski looking less than 100 percent), the Patriots still do have weapons for Brady, though. Their backfield is crowded with dependable players like Mike Gillislee, James White, and Dion Lewis, and their receiving corps still features Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan. Amendola is a tough loss, but the Patriots are more equipped to deal with his absence than Hightower's.
Meanwhile, Slater is an important special teams player for the Patriots. He was voted first-team All Pro last year and has been to six Pro Bowls.
The main takeaway: The Patriots are going be challenged to come away with a win on Sunday. That doesn't mean they won't rebound with a win -- after all, Bill Belichick has had more than a week to correct some issues and come up with a game plan. It just means the battle might be a bit tougher than initially expected.