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New England Patriots Continue to Lose Pieces - Jermaine Cunningham Suspended

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Jermaine Cunningham is just another player unavailable to the Patriots.

With rookie defensive end Chandler Jones still on the sideline, the New England Patriots were dealt a cruel blow today when fellow defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was handed a four game suspension for violating the league's performance enhancing drugs policy. Losing Cunningham and Jones puts pressure on off-season free agent acquisition Trevor Scott as well as the team's revamped secondary.

Scott hasn't registered a sack all season long and has only been on the field for 110 snaps. He has come close on occasion, but for the most part Scott has proven to be a disappointing addition for a defense lacking any proven pass rusher. The performances of Jones had overshadowed the Patriots inability to get to the quarterback throughout this year, as he has consistently pressured the quarterback all season long while also notching six sacks on the year. Outside of Jones, Rob Ninkovich has seven sacks but doesn't get the same consistent pressure.

Ninkovich and Cunningham started last week, when Cunningham had a season high six tackles and both were kept off the quarterback all game. Against the Miami Dolphins this weekend, the Patriots don't figure to do much better because the Dolphins have a better line overall than the Jets.  With Aqib Talib now inserted at cornerback and Devin McCourty moved to safety, the team's secondary has somewhat solidified itself. Unfortunately for the Patriots, their secondary is built to take advantage of pressure rather than shut down receivers and give the pass rushers time.

At least with Cunningham in the lineup, the Patriots had a young talented defender who just needed to find his comfort zone at this level. Cunningham is just 24 years old and was a second round pick of the team three years ago. Trevor Scott is a fifth year player and former Oakland Raider. Scott has started 16 games in his career and has a total of 13.5 sacks. Importantly, he hasn't registered a sack since the 2010 season when he registered just 1.5 sacks in 10 starts.

With the Patriots offense missing Rob Gronkowski still, the Patriots can't afford to keep losing starters because they need to prepare for the playoffs. They are very close to clinching a playoff berth and shouldn't have any issues with their remaining schedule. However, not having key performers playing for the team during the run up to the playoffs could come back to haunt them at a later date.

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