As the Pittsburgh Steelers continue to prepare for the Week 1 matchup against the New England Patriots, all the focus is on the reinstatement of Tom Brady. However, one other story which might have fallen by the wayside is news of Patriots' WR Brandon LaFell being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform List to start the 2015 season.
Patriots placed WR Brandon LaFell on the Reserve/P.U.P. list.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) September 5, 2015
The news of LaFell's season being delayed due to an apparent foot injury carries some serious significance in the upcoming matchup to kick off the 2015 NFL season.
In the 2014 regular season, LaFell had 74 receptions on 119 targets for 953 yards and 7 touchdowns. In the 2014 playoffs, LaFell had 13 catches for 193 yards and two touchdowns as the Patriots marched on to their fourth Super Bowl championship over the Seattle Seahawks.
How significant is the loss of LaFell for the Patriots offense? I'd say pretty significant. Of LaFell's 74 receptions in the 2014 regular season, 50 of them were for first downs. In other words, LaFell was the player Brady looked to often to move the chains and keep drives alive. Other than that statistic, LaFell was the third leading receiver on the team, behind only Rob Gronkowski (1,124 yards) and Julian Edelman (972 yards) in terms of yards receiving. LaFell's seven touchdowns were second only to Gronkowski's 12 in 2014.
LaFell's absence is just another key player missing from could have been a star-studded matchup. The Steelers will be without All Pro center Maurkice Pouncey after he broke his ankle in the team's third preseason game, Le'Veon Bell due to a suspension stemming from a 2014 traffic stop and most recently second year wide receiver Martavis Bryant due to violating the team's substance abuse policy and having to sit out the first 4 weeks of 2015.
The Patriots will already be without running back LeGarrette Blount for his role in Bell's suspension, just adding another wrinkle to an already intriguing matchup.
The Patriots will certainly miss LaFell and his production, but with a team who simply never seems to be without the next player waiting in the wings, the Steelers defense will have to be prepared for yet another receiver to do exactly what LaFell does/did for the New England offense.