The New England Patriots have had a depleted roster at the start of the season. Rob Gronkowski, injured to start the season, has yet to record an offensive touch. The team waived its starting center, and left tackle Nate Solder has missed time with injury. Rob Ninkovich is both injured and suspended. Oh, and they’ve started quarterbacks who had a combined 188 yards and one touchdown of passing experience in the NFL before this year, due to Tom Brady’s suspension.
In spite of that, they’re humming along, undefeated as usual. It’s a testament not just to Bill Belichick’s historic coaching abilities, but his success signing and trading for veteran depth this offseason, allowing him to build around cornerstones like Gronkowski and Jamie Collins. This may be the most talented top-to-bottom Patriots roster in years.
Offense: Martellus Bennett, TE
You might think, with Gronkowski having missed two games with injury, that the Patriots offense could suffer a hitch. Yet the team manages to keep on humming, because they managed to snag another six-foot-seven, 250 pounder who is equally able as a receiver and a blocker.
Bennett is the team’s second-leading receiver so far, with 10 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown. If both he and Gronkowski are on the field Sunday, it will create a massive challenge for the Browns, the Williamses, and Corey Graham. They’ll use their physicality to open holes for LeGarrette Blount, and they’ll use their size to get open even when they’re covered.
Defense: Chris Long, DE
Long is just one of several defensive linemen who have stepped up into an admirable rotation since the offseason departure of Chandler Jones and Ninkovich’s suspension. The free agent signing has a sack, a fumble recovery, and two swatted passes this year. Along with Jabaal Sheard and Trey Flowers, he makes up part of a strong group of pass rushers, complemented by an outstanding linebacker set, which turns any pass attempt into a dangerous situation.