When the New England Patriots host the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, expect the inactives for the home team to have little effect on the game. Offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, wide receivers Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, cornerback Alfonso Dennard and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui are all looking like they will watch the game from the sidelines, but not one of those absent players should prevent the Patriots from coming out of Gillette Stadium with a win.
Hoomanawanui tweaked his knee in the controversial loss to the Carolina Panthers three weeks ago and will now miss his third game. Turns out Hoomanawanui is not an extremely important offensive threat (as displayed by his 10 receptions on the season) and Rob Gronkowski is one of the biggest threats in the entire NFL. In Gronkowski’s five games he has caught 31 passes for 433 yards and three touchdowns, not missing a beat. Hoomanawanui has been more useful as a blocker and that is where Matthew Mulligan can be inserted without issue.
On the other hand, wide receivers Dobson and Thompkins are potential threats in the Patriots’ offense. Dobson injured his foot early against the Denver Broncos and Thompkins came down hard after hauling in a reception against the Houston Texans. Both rookie wideouts have nearly identical stats (Dobson: 35 catches, 492 yards, four touchdowns; Thompkins: 32, 466, four) but should be easily replaced against Cleveland by the trio of Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the recently re-aquired Austin Collie. The latter demonstrated earlier in the season that he can step in and play a role in the offense.
At cornerback, Dennard is second on the depth chart. He was inactive for the Panthers game, taken out of the Broncos game with a knee problem, missed last week in Houston and was limited at practice this week with his ongoing legal troubles back in Nebraska. Replacing Dennard will be a combination of Marquise Cole and Kyle Arrington, two other players who have been nicked up as of late. If Aqib Talib can perform against Josh Gordon, the Browns’ only threat, like he can, there should be no hiccups with the secondary.
As for protecting Tom Brady, Cannon played well in the absence of Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle, except he went down with an ankle injury against Denver. Will Svitek, the eight-year veteran, will get the start again, one week after having performing well against one of the best defensive ends in the league in J.J. Watt.
Watt had 9.5 sacks on the season, good enough for seventh in the NFL heading into the contest, but Svitek shut the All-Pro down.
Fortunately, the Patriots are facing one of the worst teams in the NFL Sunday; one that is starting a recently-concussed Jason Campbell at quarterback and has signed two others (Caleb Hanie, Alex Tanney) in the last two weeks to back him up. Look for the Patriots to cover the 10.5 point spread.