By Sam McPherson
The big injury news this week concerning the Sunday matchup between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots has nothing to do with the visiting team from the West Coast. Perhaps that’s a good sign for the Rams, as they are 4-7 and in desperate need of a victory if they want to post a winning season for the first time since 2003. However, the Los Angeles roster also has its injury problems, specifically along the offensive line, as it prepares to take on the AFC’s best team this weekend.
Yes, Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is out for the season, but the Rams’ injuries are currently flying under the media radar, and they are no laughing matter for L.A. Three players upfront for the Rams offense are questionable for the Sunday contest in New England: Center Tim Barnes (foot), tackle Andrew Donnal (hip) and guard Rodger Saffold (hand). Two of those players are starters, and if they can’t play this weekend, the Los Angeles offense could be in trouble with its rookie quarterback making just his third NFL start. None of the three were able to participate at all in workouts on Wednesday and Thursday.
Protecting Jared Goff
While the Patriots don’t have a single, dominant pass rusher, their defense does have a lot of good players that know their roles and how to succeed in them, thanks to a great coaching staff. This could spell trouble for Rams QB Jared Goff, as New England is going to make his life miserable on Sunday no matter who is playing on the L.A. offensive line.
Barnes and Saffold have started every game this year, and if for some reason either or neither can play this weekend, Goff is going to be in for a long and painful contest against the Pats. Barnes has started 27 straight games now, and Saffold has started every game he’s played in since the start of the 2014 season. That’s a lot of experience up front. And while Donnal hasn’t started a game in 2016, his presence for depth alone could be missed, mightily.
Attacking Tom Brady
Defensively, the Rams look solid, with just defensive end Robert Quinn (concussion) causing concern. He missed practice all week with concussion issues, and it’s unknown whether or not he will be ready to play on Sunday. This would be a tough loss for Los Angeles, as Quinn has posted a sack in each of the last two games. Overall, he has four sacks on the season, which is the second-best number on the team. Over the years, it’s been clear that the best way to beat Brady’s New England offense is through QB pressure, so without Quinn, the Rams lose some bite in that category.
New England Is Down One Big Player
Everyone knows Gronk is going to miss the rest of the season for the Patriots, but that isn’t the only injury concern for New England. The team’s other tight end, Martellus Bennett, is also banged up with an ankle injury. When both tight ends were on the field together this season, the Patriots offense looked very scary. If both are out, the New England coaching staff will compensate accordingly, but opposing defenses could breathe a big sigh of relief without Gronk and Bennett on the field together. Bennett is officially listed as questionable for Sunday, but the Rams should expect to see him on the field even if he is not at 100 percent.
Tim Barnes, center (foot)
Andrew Donnal, tackle (hip)
Robert Quinn, defensive end (concussion)
Rodger Saffold, guard (hand)
Tavon Austin, wide receiver (chest)