Hiccup against the Pittsburgh Steelers notwithstanding, the New England Patriots have fielded one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL this season, but as the injuries to defensive starters continue to mount up for the team, one has to question just how long the Patriots defense will be able to maintain this current status as a strong unit. The latest defensive starter who will miss extended time due to injury is safety Steve Gregory; Adam Schefter of ESPN reported today that Gregory broke his thumb and that sources state that he will be out for a few weeks.
Losing any starter can be debilitating for a team, but losing Gregory will be especially painful for the Patriots. Nine games into the season, Gregory has been one of the most valuable defensive backs on the team. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Gregory's 0.74 win probability added ranks as the second-highest mark among the Patriots secondary and his 52 tackles on the season are the most of any Patriots defensive back this season. While other secondary members have been more valuable on a per-play basis, with a lot of Gregory's value being the product of having been on the field for 87 percent of the Patriots' defensive snaps, Gregory has been one of the most consistent defensive players for the Patriots this season, and his production will be hard to replace.
However, the Patriots will have to do more than simply replace one of their better defensive players with Gregory out. The franchise will also be replacing one of the better safeties in the NFL this season in terms of positive win probability added. Gregory's aforementioned win probability added is good enough to rank 12th out of 87 qualifying safeties.
Tasked with replacing Gregory will most likely be Duron Harmon, who is listed as Gregory's back-up on the Patriots' official depth chart. Harmon will have his work cut out for him to duplicate Gregory's place on the team in more than just position name only, and the Patriots will have to hope they can survive yet another injured defensive player going down. Neither task will be an easy one to accomplish.