New England Patriots rookie cornerback Alfonzo Dennard has been one of several players that have added stability to the Patriots secondary which has improved the defense late in the season. But he went down with a knee injury Sunday night in the loss against the San Francisco 49ers. If lost for several weeks his absence could cause severe problems for the Patriots.
At the beginning of the season the Patriots pass defense was atrocious. The reason for that was a lack of options in the defensive backfield. Dennard joined a list of injured players that included Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, and Will Allen. But as the season went on, the team started to recover. The return of Gregory and acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib allowed the Patriots to move Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty to safety, where he has thrived.
However, with Dennard down the Patriots may have to make some moves that could inhibit the defense. One possibility will be to move McCourty back to cornerback and start Chung or rookie Tavon Wilson at safety. Neither has shown the ability that McCourty has over the past few weeks. Wilson played well considering his youth earlier in the season, but the Patriots would rather have experience at that position in the postseason. And while Chung has the ability to play the position, he’s been injured for most of his young career.
The other possibility would be to move Kyle Arrington back to the outside. The Patriots defensive backs have been their best with Talib and Dennard on the outside and Arrington in the slot. Arrington did play on the outside earlier in the season out of necessity, but struggled mightily. Putting him back in that position heading into the postseason may not be seen by head coach Bill Belichick as a viable option.
There are two weeks remaining in the regular season and without a first round bye, the Patriots can’t afford instability in the defense. Even with the best offense in the NFL, it’s tough to win games when you can’t count on the defense to make stops. But if Dennard is out the Patriots may be forced to adjust their defensive backfield which could create some instability. Luckily for the Patriots, their final two games are against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins, which they should be able to win while the coaches figure out what to do next.