Analysis on Spikes landing on IR

The New England Patriots placed linebacker Brandon Spikes on season-ending injured reserve and here are some quick-hit thoughts on what it means:

Spikes’ fit in the defense: The fourth-year pro is the team’s most physical downhill linebacker who is most effective against the run. He often came off the field in sub packages as pass coverage isn’t his forte. Spikes played 59.7 percent of the snaps this season, with his value to the defense rising after season-ending injuries to defensive tackles Vince Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Tommy Kelly (Oct. 6). Without the bulk and power of Wilfork and Kelly inside, the Patriots sent Spikes (6-2, 255) on more run blitzes up the middle in an attempt to control the line of scrimmage. Spikes, who after leading the Patriots with penalties in 2012 didn't commit an infraction this year, was generally up to the task. If the Patriots have to beat the Colts and Broncos to advance to the Super Bowl, the loss of Spikes might not be felt as much as those offenses generally live by the pass, but it could show up against teams like Seattle, San Francisco, New Orleans and Carolina in a possible Super Bowl matchup.

Toughness can’t be questioned: Spikes played through a knee injury for a long stretch of the season. It certainly appears he gave the Patriots all he could, although this move still comes as a surprise as there was no indication Spikes wouldn’t be able to keep playing through the injury. Spikes’ energy was often infectious to his teammates as well.

Collins and Fletcher are next linebackers up: With Spikes out of the mix, it bumps top draft pick Jamie Collins (52nd overall) and four-year veteran Dane Fletcher up the depth chart. The Patriots also have flexibility in their scheme to also use their defensive ends in a linebacker-type role, but they’ll certainly now be calling more on the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Collins (25.8 percent of the defensive snaps) and 6-foot-2, 245-pound Fletcher (18.1 percent). Both have significantly different skill sets than Spikes, as they run well, but aren’t as physical from a downhill running-game perspective.

Spikes might have played last game as a Patriot: A 2010 second-round draft choice out of Florida, Spikes enters unrestricted free agency this offseason. It makes sense to think the Patriots would consider bringing Spikes back in a two-down type role, but if another team values Spikes from a three-down perspective, it could ultimately lead him to wear another uniform in 2014 (assuming he has a full recovery).

Open roster spot to be filled: The Patriots didn't announce a corresponding roster move after placing Spikes on injured reserve. Rookie Steve Beauharnais (seventh round, Rutgers) and special teamer Chris White are now top backups at the position, and linebacker Ja'Gared Davis could be a possibility to promote from the practice squad for another layer at the position.