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Analysis: Patriots Downgrade Two Players, Make Series of Roster Moves for Sunday's Game vs. the Broncos 

Henry (knee) will miss his first game as Patriot while the Patriots will need to shuffle things around on the offensive line. 


The Patriots are bound for a Christmas Eve trip to Denver for Sunday night's matchup vs. the Broncos at Mile High.

After ruling out three players already, the Patriots downgraded TE Hunter Henry (knee) and OT Conor McDermott (concussion) to out for their Week 16 tilt. McDermott was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. The Patriots also signed G/C James Ferentz to the 53-man roster and elevated TE Matt Sokol and CB Breon Borders from the practice squad. Henry and McDermott make it five players for New England who are ruled out already, joining RB Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle), S Jabrill Peppers (hamstring), and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle) on Friday's final injury report. 

Starting with the Pats top tight end, Henry will miss his first game as a Patriot after exiting last week's loss to the Chiefs early in the fourth quarter when he took a hard hit by Chiefs CB L'Jarius Sneed to the knee. Initially, it seemed like Henry, who was officially listed as questionable, would try to give it a go. The veteran tight end was seen watching Thursday's practice and then was a limited participant on Friday, signaling that his injury wasn't a long-term issue. However, second-year QB Bailey Zappe's safety blanket won't be available on Sunday night.

Without their leading receiver in receptions (42) and receiving touchdowns (six), the Patriots will lean on tight ends Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown. Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien has used his two healthy tight ends in very situational roles this season. Brown has been primarily an early-down blocker as an in-line tight end alongside Henry. Gesicki, on the other hand, has played 80.9% of his snaps as a detached receiver, primarily lining up in the slot (246 snaps). One would expect those trends to continue with Brown taking over as the traditional "Y" tight end while Gesicki continues in his role as a jumbo-slot receiver. 

Along with Brown, Gesicki, and Sokol at tight end, the Patriots options at wide receiver are DeVante Parker, Demario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, Jalen Reagor, and Kayshon Boutte. In the backfield, the Pats will likely have Ezekiel Elliott, Kevin Harris, and JaMychal Hasty active. 

As for the offensive line, the Patriots could have yet another starting offensive line combination after ruling out McDermott. The question now is, without McDermott, will the Patriots have starting LT Trent Brown (ankle/hand) available, and can he give them a full game? Brown sat out last week due to illness, ankle, and hand injuries. Although he played in the previous three games, the big left tackle wasn't healthy enough to play 100 percent of the snaps. Instead, Brown was in a rotation with McDermott, playing 59.6% (Steelers), 67.2% (Chargers), and 76.5% (Giants) of the snaps in Weeks 12-14. The last time Brown played every offensive snap was all the way back in Week 8 in Miami. 

If the Pats starting left tackle can't play or needs to be managed, New England will be down to fourth-string OT Vederian Lowe. Lowe played the final 13 snaps against the Chiefs and, to his credit, looked much better on film than in his previous appearances. It's a tiny sample size, but Lowe didn't allow a single QB pressure in eight pass-blocking snaps. Still, you worry about Lowe's ability to hold up at left tackle with more exposure. In particular, Broncos edge rushers Nik Bonitio (eight sacks, 44 pressures) and Baron Browning (four sacks, 26 pressures) are the type of speed rushers that have given Lowe problems in the past. Plus, the Broncos have the seventh-highest blitz rate in the league under DC Vance Joseph (36.3%). 

New England's offensive line will also be without starting LG Cole Strange, who was placed on injured reserve this week following a knee injury in Week 15. The Patriots projected starting offensive line looks like this: LT Trent Brown/Vederian Lowe, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Mike Onwenu – a group that hasn't played much football together.

The Patriots will square off against the Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High on Sunday night.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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