It's not hard to find a pattern in the offensive scheme the pass-happy Patriots employed immediately upon the knee injury suffered by left tackle Matt Light:
1st and 10: Kevin Faulk run, gain 4
2nd and 6: Sammy Morris run, gain 3
Third and 3: Kevin Faulk run, gain 1
(First down by penalty)
First and 10: Sammy Morris run, gain 6
Second and 4: Sammy Morris run, gain 5
First and 10: Sammy Morris run, gain 3
This from a team that has so heavily emphasized the pass through five games that analysts are wondering if they're trying too hard to capture the magic of the backyard football-esque 2007 season. ("Hey, Randy, fake like you're running a slant toward the flower beds and then just go deep -- waaaaay deep. Ain't no way Uncle Frankie can cover you.")
Light again missed practice on Thursday but was spotted in the locker room walking without a limp. Tight end Chris Baker refused to answer any questions regarding the way blocking schemes would change if, hypothetically, Light couldn't go, let alone any questions specifically about Light. There's no way to know this early if Light will be ready to go on Sunday.
And for an offense still trying to rediscover its big-play capability -- "Coach hammered into us today that we haven’t had a pass over 40 yards yet this year," quarterback Tom Brady said on Wednesday -- the absence of Light could be a big factor.
When Light went out on the first play of the fourth quarter, Bill Belichick opted to send rookie Sebastian Vollmer into the game at left tackle rather than shift Nick Kaczur over to right tackle. It was classic Belichick; the coach seems to be opposed to the idea of shifting tackles from side-to-side during the game, but it's hard to believe that philosophy still applies with a week to prepare.
(The Baltimore Ravens lost their left tackle against the Patriots a couple of weeks ago and moved their right tackle, rookie Michael Oher, across to the left side. Said Belichick a day later, "I was a little surprised what they did with that. They moved Oher over to left tackle and put (Marshal) Yanda in there at right tackle. I was surprised they moved Oher, but I’m sure they know what they were doing. I’m not questioning them. I’m just saying I didn’t really see that move coming.")
Vollmer might again play left tackle on Sunday. Kaczur might shift to left tackle with Vollmer taking over at right tackle. Either way, though, if the Patriots are without Light, they're going to be playing their two offensive tackles out of their comfort zones -- and it's going to hamper their ability to complete some of the deep passes for which they're still searching.
Deep passes naturally require more out of the offensive line -- the quarterback needs extra time in the pocket as he's waiting for his wide receivers to get off the line of scrimmage and away from jamming cornerbacks. Brady has an understanding with and a faith in Light from their years of playing alongside each other, and he isn't going to have that with Vollmer based on three brief fourth-quarter drives last Sunday.
When Vollmer made his debut, the Patriots ran the ball on six straight plays. That, of course, might be their way of getting their rookie left tackle acclimated to the speed of the NFL game -- but if he wasn't already up to speed after months of minicamps and training camp, Sunday's fourth quarter probably wasn't going to flip the switch.
If Vollmer is playing left tackle in place of Light on Sunday, you not see some of those long pass plays you're longing to see. The Patriots might have no choice but to play it conservative.