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Analysis: Patriots Activate OL Riley Reiff, Elevate DL Jeremiah Pharms in a Series of Roster Moves for Sunday's Game vs. Saints

The Patriots offensive line could get a boost with a projected starter returning to the lineup after a four-week absence.

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The Patriots have made a series of roster moves heading into Sunday's showdown with the New Orleans Saints in a 1 p.m. ET kickoff at Gillette Stadium. 

As expected, New England has placed first-year CB Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) on injured reserve. According to reports, Gonzalez will have surgery on a torn labrum that will end a rookie season that showed so much promise prematurely. Along with placing the rookie on injured reserve, veteran OL Riley Reiff will take Gonzalez's spot on the 53-man roster, as Reiff has been activated off injured reserve after a four-week absence. The Patriots also elevated DT Jeremiah Pharms from the practice squad for the second consecutive game. 

Although they'd rather not create an open roster spot this way, the Patriots offensive line will get a boost. Reiff rejoins the team after a four-week stint on injured reserve, and the 14-year vet could provide a steadying presence for a struggling offensive line. Reiff's training camp began with a rocky showing at right tackle, where the team envisioned the 34-year-old playing when they signed him in free agency. Reiff struggled to protect his edge due to declining foot speed, leading to issues with mirroring pass rushers. Reiff's problems led the team to move him inside to right guard, where he filled in for starter Michael Onwenu in camp. Then, Reiff suffered a knee injury during the preseason finale in Tennessee, leading to a stint on injured reserve. 

Reiff struggled at right tackle in the summer, but the Patriots offensive line ranks dead-last in pass-blocking win rate, while quarterback Mac Jones has been under pressure on 37.7% of his drop-backs. Jones has faced the eighth-most pressured drop-backs in the NFL, which is unsustainable for a pocket passer, meaning changes must come along the O-Line. Plus, the Pats are also 22nd in team run-blocking grade and 23rd in rushing average this season. 

Given the struggles for Calvin Anderson and Vederian Lowe at right tackle, the Patriots may revert to roughly the five-man combination they planned on playing with heading into the season with Reiff now healthy. The Pats right tackles have allowed 29 quarterback pressures in the first four games, a huge number, meaning Reiff could still be an upgrade.

On Friday, head coach Bill Belichick offered a positive review for rookie G Atonio Mafi, who has improved over 190 snaps in his first four games, including a solid start in Dallas last week. Given Belichick's praise and Cole Strange's uncertain status, Mafi will likely remain in the starting lineup at left guard this week. The Pats starting offensive line could look like this: LT Trent Brown, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Michael Onwenu, and RT Riley Reiff. 

Moving over to the defense, the Patriots did not activate DL Trey Flowers (foot) or special-teamer Cody Davis (knee), who were designated to return this week. Since they didn't need to open a roster spot, star pass-rusher Matthew Judon (elbow) remains on the active roster despite reportedly tearing his biceps in last Sunday's loss to the Cowboys. Some reports indicate that Judon could return this season.

The coaching staff indicated earlier this week that second-round pick Keion White would play more without Judon alongside pass-rusher Josh Uche, LB Anfernee Jennings, and hybrid LB Jahlani Tavai. We are on the record stating that White should get as many reps as possible. However, his block recognition and overall grasp of the defense as a first-year player have limited him to a 33.2% snap rate through four games. White will play more, but how much more remains to be seen, as the team will likely view Jennings and Tavai as more assignment-sound. In other words, prepare for White to be in a rotation rather than a full-time player. 

New England also hopes that veteran corner Jonathan Jones (ankle, questionable) will return after a three-week absence, while recently acquired CB J.C. Jackson should begin his second stint with the team on Sunday. Jackson, who is coming off a major knee injury that ended his 2022 season, was not listed on the injury report.

The Patriots defense took two major blows, losing Gonzalez and Judon indefinitely in last week's lopsided loss to the Cowboys. Although you can't replace the two blue-chip talents lost to injury, the Pats are getting some reinforcements back on defense that should help. 

Lastly, the Pats elevated Pharms from the practice squad for the second straight week, with Davon Godchaux (ankle) and Christian Barmore (knee) questionable. Both regulars, Barmore and Godchaux, played through the injuries last week. Still, Pharms gives them insurance if either can't go, while the run-stuffing D-Tackle played seven snaps a week ago.

On a positive note, the Patriots didn't elevate practice-squad RB Kevin Harris, which is a good sign for the availability of running back Rhamondre Stevenson (thigh, questionable). The Pats could've elevated Harris but didn't, which suggests that Stevenson will be available on Sunday. 

The roster is now set for the Patriots to take on the Saints in a game close to a must-win on Sunday.

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