The Big Nickel: A shot at redemption for Darius Butler and what the loss of Jim Leonhard means for the Patriots
|12.03.10 at 4:50 pm ET|
The five most important things you need to know about the Patriots on Friday:
1. The official game status won’t be released until Sunday, but based on how things have gone for the last week or so, it’s a safe bet the Patriots will be without cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hip) and defensive linemen Myron Pryor (back) and Mike Wright (neck/concussion) on Monday night. As was the case for the last week or so, all three missed practice again on Friday, and with the absence coming so late in the week (even for a Monday game), it means New England will be without all three.
Without Pryor and Wright, the Patriots will lose some depth along their defensive line, as well as some good interior pass rush — Wright leads the team in sacks with 5.5 sacks. Look for more responsibility on the shoulders of starters like Vince Wilfork, Gerard Warren, Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace, as well as backup Kyle Love.
And presuming Wilhite is a no-go for Monday night, that means New England will likely turn to Darius Butler at corner. It’ll be a shot at redemption for the UConn product, who was roasted badly by Braylon Edwards in the Week 2 matchup between the Patriots and Jets and was relegated to backup duty after that. (In fact, if the Patriots use Kyle Arrington as an outside linebacker/defensive end, as they have done the last couple of weeks, Butler could see some time on the exterior against the likes of Edwards.)
2. The loss of Jim Leonhard for the Jets means New York has fewer options when it comes to defending the Patriots, particularly in the passing game. Jets coach Rex Ryan told reporters that New York would go with Eric Smith in Leonhard’s place, but the dropoff is sizable. Another area where Leonhard’s difference could be felt is in special teams, where he’s the Jets No. 1 punt returner. Rookie Kyle Wilson has also been returning punts this season for the Jets — however, putting a rookie into the position of having to catch a key punt in a game at windy Gillette Stadium could be an awful tall order. (According to special teams coach Mike Westhoff, that role will likely fall to wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.)
3. Everyone has their opinion on Monday’s game, and in a conference call earlier this week, the “Monday Night” crew offered their take on the contest. (By my count, Jon Gruden did say, “This guy…” once.)
“The game is equally important for both teams, but given the fact that it’s at New England and the Jets have already beaten New England this season, I think it’s a little bigger for the Patriots,” Gruden said. “I don’t see anybody sweeping Tom Brady twice in the same season in my lifetime. It’s going to be a tall order I believe for the Jets. I think Brady is at the top of his game and the consecutive winning streak at home is unbelievable.”
“What I like is the intrigue about these two teams and their coaches and how they act,” said analyst Ron Jaworski. “They are kind of polar opposites, and I think that is going to make this game so very interesting not only to us but intriguing to people around the country. These are very unique organizations and really two different teams on and off the field and they clash on Monday night and make it very interesting.”
4. Thursday afternoon’s move of Stephen Neal to season-ending injured reserve leaves the Patriots with Dan Connolly the likely starter the rest of the way at right guard. Connolly did a very good job filling in for Logan Mankins when the Fresno State product was sitting out because of his contract, but the loss of Neal leaves New England a little thin when it comes to the interior line. Ryan Wendell now becomes the No. 1 backup among the interior linemen, and veteran Quinn Ojinnaka also has the ability to provide depth at all three offensive line positions.
As for Connolly, the relatively quiet lineman said that the fact that he figures to be back in the starting lineup for the rest of the season won’t change his preparation.
“I’ve been starting first seven games for Logan and then the last three for Steve,” Connolly told reporters on Friday. “I’ve been preparing to start games the whole season so nothing’s really going to change for me, just keep doing what I’ve been doing.”
5. And because it’s Friday, here’s my take on the three keys to the game for the Patriots. Thanks, and enjoy the weekend!
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