The loss of Rob Ninkovich, who retired in training camp, can’t be overstated. And when Dont’a Hightower — playing more of a strong-side end role — left the game Thursday night with a knee injury, the Patriots were toast. They allowed a stunning 258 yards and three touchdowns in the 20 game minutes after he got hurt.
One of those scores, the 78-yard touchdown catch by Kareem Hunt, came on a route against newly acquired DE Cassius Marsh, who was playing in place of Hightower and ended up playing most of the second half on defense as well as special teams. That’s asking a lot of Marsh, who arrived a week ago and is not known as a coverage player — especially that far downfield against a quick back. That’s a coaching/scheme mistake and one that will need to be cleaned up.
But what about the lack of talent that appears suddenly obvious? Even if Hightower’s injury is not a major long-term worry, there’s a depth issue that must be stated. Allowing two drives of 90-plus yards in the first half was a sign of the trouble that followed in the loss.