By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots’ trade deadline obviously wasn’t totally silent. There was that whole backup quarterback trade. But in terms of bolstering the 2017 roster, the team stood pat on Tuesday, even as their division rivals made fairly large moves.
So now, of course, it’s up to the guys they already have to play better in the second half.
Much has been said about the team’s offseason acquisitions, most of which have yet to live up to expectations – or contribute anything at all. Some of them have been so close to nonexistent that any kind of meaningful production down the stretch would almost make them akin to midseason trade acquisitions. Others, like linebacker Shea McClellin or wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell, could act as de facto trade additions if either one can make it back to the field from injured reserve.
The players below are the ones who will almost certainly need to give the Pats more than they did in the first eight games of the season if the team wants to be playing as well and as efficiently as they typically do in November and December. They won’t necessarily make or break their chances of getting back to the Super Bowl, but they have a chance to be this year’s versions of Kyle Van Noy in 2016, Akiem Hicks in 2015, and Akeem Ayers in 2014.
Linebackers David Harris and Elandon Roberts. McClellin is back practicing with the team and looks like he could come off IR as soon as Week 10, but it’s more realistic that the team depends on Harris and Roberts to be the next men up in the wake of Dont’a Hightower’s season-ending pectoral injury. You already saw a bit of what they could provide last Sunday against the Chargers, as Roberts was an effective run-stopper with five tackles and Harris helped cause a key third-quarter sack against Philip Rivers.
Defensive end Cassius Marsh. The former Seahawk has mostly played poorly, and at times has made some downright egregious mistakes that have led to some big plays from the opposition. He was one of the main culprits on Melvin Gordon’s 87-yard rushing touchdown last Sunday. But like him or not, Marsh continues to see snaps, almost out of necessity. He needs to do a better job of avoiding getting bottled up on the edge or teams will continue to run at him when he’s out there, and the results could continue to be ugly. He works better as a situational pass rusher, anyway, and will need to start showing up on more third-down plays.
Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister. While no one thought Allen would be this bad (no catches on six targets), sometimes it just takes a while for a player to get up to speed on the Patriots’ playbook. Perhaps the bye week will do Allen some good. There’s little reason to believe he will get any better in the second half, but considering the Patriots’ relative struggles in the red zone, it could be a huge boost to the offense if either he or the rookie Hollister could at least start making some occasional plays when needed. Allen has nowhere to go but up from here.
Wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. Even if Mitchell is able to return, it’s unclear what kind of shape he’d be in physically to handle any kind of significant workload. Especially as Chris Hogan appears on track to miss a few weeks, it’s time for Dorsett to start contributing more in the passing game. His speed could make him another downfield threat alongside Brandin Cooks if he can get on the same page with Tom Brady.
Defensive tackle Alan Branch. Despite how good rookies Deatrich Wise and Adam Butler have looked on the D-line at times, it’s Branch who has the experience and knowledge of the system that should help him do more in the second half after a very slow start. It will be hard for the Pats to put real trust in a pair of rookies to make big defensive plays in January, which Branch has already proven capable of doing. The success of their defensive interior could ultimately hinge on how much Branch can improve upon his first half.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.