The Patriots’ pass rush has been dealt a major blow just days before the team starts the toughest stretch of its season: according to a league source, defensive end Chandler Jones has a hip injury that will sideline him for about a month.
Jones was not present at Tuesday’s practice.
The third-year player has been one of New England’s best defensive players this season, and leads the team with 4½ sacks. Jones also had two pass breakups, a forced fumble, and fumble recovery – both of which came on a strip-sack of Buffalo’s Kyle Orton — and 26 tackles. He also blocked a field goal against the Vikings that he scooped up and returned for a touchdown.
According to the website ProFootballFocus, Jones has 15 quarterback hurries in seven games.
Over the coming weeks, the Patriots will face some high-level quarterbacks, starting on Sunday with the Bears’ Jay Cutler. A week later, Peyton Manning and the Broncos are in town. The Patriots will have their bye week after the Denver game, but then travel to Indianapolis to face Andrew Luck and the Colts.
Without Jones, the pass rush will suffer, making it even tougher to defend against some of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Rob Ninkovich has four sacks, but three of those came against the Bills.
To try to fill the void created by Jones’s extended absence, the Patriots reportedly traded for fourth-year linebacker Akeem Ayers Tuesday, acquiring him from Tennessee.
Also, the team is signing free agent defensive lineman Alan Branch, according to a league source.
Listed at 6 feet 3 inches, 255 pounds, Ayers was the 39th overall pick out of UCLA in 2011, and started all 16 games for the Titans as a rookie. In 2012, he recorded more than 100 tackles and six sacks in 16 games, though those numbers dipped last season as he dealt with a knee injuries.
In the offseason, the 25-year old Ayers underwent surgery on both knees, having the patellar tendon in each repaired about six weeks apart.
That, coupled with the Titans’ switch to a 3-4 defense, meant Ayers had played in just two games so far this year, with 10 total snaps on defense. He was credited with three tackles.
The trade is contingent on Ayers passing a physical, a key aspect given his recent knee woes.
Branch, a second-round pick of the Cardinals in 2007, is listed at 6-6, 324 pounds. He spent four years with Arizona, then two with the Seahawks before signing with the Bills in 2013.
He played in 16 games for the Bills, with 39 tackles, but did not have any other statistics.
Buffalo released Branch in August, a day after the 29-year old was arrested for driving under the influence.