On Monday New England Patriots defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was suspended four games for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy. The Patriots have been dealt several cruel blows to the defense through injury and suspension and the loss of Cunningham adds to that bad luck for Bill Belichick. Worse is that the loss of this defensive lineman puts pressure on the wrong area for the Patriots.
Cunningham is the second defensive lineman that will now be out of the lineup. Star rookie defensive end Chandler Jones is currently out with an ankle injury. With both Cunningham and Jones sidelined the Patriots will now have to rely on a player who has disappointed this season and shown little promise of improving.
Trevor Scott was signed by the Patriots during this past off-season having played all previous seasons with the Oakland Raiders. So far this season he has only played 110 snaps and manufactured no sacks. With both Cunningham and Jones out, Scott is being asked to create pressure on the quarterback that so far this season he has been unable to create.
The loss of Cunningham and addition of his replacement, Scott, in the lineup will put tremendous pressure on the Patriots defensive secondary. With the Patriots not fielding any defensive linemen with the ability to individually create immediate pressure on quarterbacks, the Patriots defensive backs will need to keep receivers covered longer to allow Scott and Rob Ninkovich time to reach the quarterback. This could create a big problem for the Patriots defense.
To be fair, the Patriots secondary has improved. The addition of cornerback Aqib Talib has helped and Kyle Arrington has improved as well. The recent health of safety Steve Gregory has seen him rise to new heights and Devin McCourty’s move back to the safety position has been much smoother than anticipated. But this new pressure on the defensive secondary is something they haven’t experienced.
While this recent loss of Cunningham will hurt the Patriots passing defense, it shouldn’t affect the run defense too much. The Patriots have had a top 10 run defense this season because of the play of defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Likely that won’t change as Wilfork has remained healthy this season. But the passing defense has been the Achilles heel for the Patriots over the past three seasons and this just makes it worse.
Even with this loss the Patriots may come out on top Sunday. The Miami Dolphins’ offense has been very inconsistent this season and will not pose the same threats as others. With a three game lead in the AFC East and five games remaining, the Patriots can seal the division crown with a win on Sunday over the Dolphins. That would be preferable due to the fact that the following two weeks will be against the Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, two offenses that will take full advantage of the Patriots defensive deficiency.
The loss of Cunningham added to the loss of Jones is a big problem for the Patriots defense. His replacement, Scott, has played little this season and has been virtually ineffective. This recent news will put pressure on a Patriots defense secondary that, while improved, has had many changes and injures of their own. As the season winds down, this could create major problems for the Patriots as they continue to fight for the top seed in the AFC.