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5 questions with Pats Pulpit: Injuries are about Patriots' only weakness

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The Denver Broncos face the New England Patriots in what is one of the biggest games of the year for the AFC. I had the pleasure of doing some Q & A with Richard Hill from patspulpit.com to get the goods on our opponents for week 11 match up.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

1) Tom Brady is having an absolutely fantastic season. What are the Pats doing on offense to keep putting up the Ws offensively?

Well the offense has definitely fallen in recent weeks due to all of the injuries.

First they lost offensive tackle Nate Solder with torn biceps, and then his replacement, Marcus Cannon, went out with a toe injury (returned last week), and then HIS replacement, Sebastian Vollmer, was concussed (returned last week), leaving the Patriots with a practice squad tackle and a converted center playing right tackle. The interior was two rookies and an undrafted third-year player. It wasn't great.

Brady has been able to compensate as best as he can within these circumstances, but the injuries are catching up. The reality is that the defense has been able to pick up some of the slack.  -Rich Hill, Pats Pulpit

Then they lost running back Dion Lewis, who was the third-most valuable skill player on offense, to an ACL injury, and then they lost wide receiver Julian Edelman, the second-most valuable, to a foot injury for the rest of the regular season, and then they lost his replacement Danny Amendola, third most valuable, to a knee sprain late against the Bills, but at least they think Amendola has a chance of playing on Sunday. Oh, and Aaron Dobson, the fourth receiver on the depth chart, just suffered a high ankle sprain.

Brady has been able to compensate as best as he can within these circumstances, but the injuries are catching up. Brandon LaFell returned to add a threat on the outside and Brady's deep ball has been his best since 2007. So long as the Patriots have Brady and Rob Gronkowski, the offense will be able to post 20+ points. The reality is that the defense, currently ranked No.1 in points against, has been able to pick up some of the slack with the offense falling off its historic pace.

2) All everyone talks about it seems from up here is Brady and the offense, but I see your defense playing pretty darn well. What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of your defense?

The defense is playing some of the best complementary football this side of the Mississippi. The defensive line has been incredible against the run, even with Jamie Collins sidelined with a serious illness the past three games (he is expected to return this week), and currently allow the second fewest rushing yards per game in the league.

Part of that is due to the offense forcing teams to become one dimensional to keep up with the scoring, but it's also due to all of the new faces on the line. Rookie Malcom Brown leads the defensive tackle rotation, while Dominique Easley is Pro Football Focus' No.1 interior pass rusher. Jabaal Sheard joined from the Browns and adds to the defensive end rotation, while Chandler Jones is one of the most well-rounded edge defenders in the league. Add in linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins and you have a top five defensive front in the league.

With teams worried about the front seven, the Patriots secondary has been able to thrive. Malcolm Butler is outplaying Darrelle Revis this season, Logan Ryan has become a legitimate No. 2 cornerback, and Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty create the top safety tandem in the league. No one will confuse the cornerback rotation with the Broncos or the Cardinals, but with opposing teams unable to run the ball, the Patriots secondary has been able to force mistakes and turnovers on a weekly basis.

As for a weakness, it's definitely the depth at cornerback. Third cornerback Justin Coleman won't be active this week due to a wrist injury, and that means that Rashaan Melvin is the only other corner on the roster. He's so bad that the Patriots converted their safeties Tavon Wilson and Chung to nickel corners to keep Melvin off of the field. Luckily for the Patriots, Gary Kubiak loves the multiple tight end formations, which means that the Patriots would be utilizing three safeties on the field anyways.

3) The Patriots always have nobodies step up each year to have an impact on their season. Tell us about a couple of the lesser known guys making big contributions to your team's success.

On offense, serious props have to be given to rookie fouth-round guard Shaq Mason. He's not perfect by any measure, but he's been able to slide into the left guard position and provide starting caliber play for the majority of the season. He's still learning how to pass protect, but he could be considered the Patriots best run blocker and no one would really question the claim.

On defense, cornerback Logan Ryan deserves a lot of credit. He was expected to take a starting spot over the offseason, but was pushed down the depth chart as rookie Darryl Roberts, and veterans Tarell Brown and Bradley Fletcher all jumped the depth chart. All three players were injured and Ryan had to go back into the lineup early in the regular season and he hasn't looked back. He's allowed a passer rating of 59.0 on the season, which is the 7th best mark in the league, per Pro Football Focus.

4) It seems like Brady's receivers have been dropping like flies. Who is he going to be throwing to outside of Gronk this week and what can we expect from them?

If you know the answer to this, please tell us. The Patriots currently have two healthy wide receivers: Brandon LaFell and undrafted rookie Chris Harper who was just promoted from the practice squad. It's not pretty. LaFell is a great option on the outside, but it's nearly impossible to have a productive offense with just two receivers. Amendola is seriously the only other possible option for Sunday, and he's dealing with a knee sprain that most think will keep him out for this week.

If the Patriots' defense can force the Broncos to stop running the ball, then Bill Belichick would love to toy with Brock Osweiler through the air.  -Rich Hill, Pats Pulpit

That leaves the Patriots with their tight ends, and Scott Chandler has struggled to meet the offseason expectations. Of course, it's possible that he just needed more opportunities since it's difficult to produce as the 6th or 7th most valued player on the offense, but now he's stepping into the third or fourth spot and he'll have to field some targets. 
There's also the off chance that the Patriots will throw to running back James White, but they've shown a curious aversion to this over the past couple of weeks with Lewis out. No idea why. Maybe they've been saving up for the Broncos.

5) The Patriots are on a tear so far this season and bring their perfect record into the rarefied air of the Mile High city. What do they need to do against the Broncos to come away with the biggest win of their season so far?

No one on offense is allowed to get hurt and I'm entirely serious. It will be difficult enough to win if Amendola isn't able to play, but if any other player gets hurt, the odds of winning will fall considerably.

The Patriots will need their defense to really step up and carry the day. If they can force the Broncos to stop running the ball, then Bill Belichick would love to toy with Brock Osweiler through the air. If the Patriots can hold Denver to fewer than 20 points, the Patriots will have a good shot of leaving with a win.