The Patriots head into a crucial divisional rematch against the New York Jets as a relatively healthy football team coming off the bye week but could have a different punter on Sunday.
According to the team's final injury report, former All-Pro punter Jake Bailey is doubtful with a back injury and did not participate in practice on Friday.
Bailey has struggled this season, ranking last in net punting average (35.3), and the Patriots are 27th in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric on punt coverage. With Bailey slumping and now on the injury report, the Pats will likely turn to practice-squad punter Michael Palardy this week. Palardy is in his sixth season in the NFL after stints with the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins. The veteran last punted in a regular season game for the Dolphins last season, where his net average was an impressive 40.6.
On top of handling punting responsibilities, Bailey also serves as the Patriots primary kickoff specialist and holder for kicker Nick Folk. Palardy has some experience with holding and kicking off, per head coach Bill Belichick.
"He's been a good punter, a good athlete. High school quarterback, kicked off, punted," Belichick told reporters on Friday. "A high school quarterback. He's done it, and he's kicked. So, this a pretty athletic kid."
The Patriots also placed second-year standout Christian Barmore (knee) on injured reserve on Friday afternoon. Barmore hasn't played since tweaking his injured knee in the Pats win over the Browns in Week 6, and despite practicing in a limited capacity this week, will now need to miss at least four games. The team signed undrafted rookie center Kody Russey to the 53-man roster with an open roster spot.
New England listed three other players as questionable for Sunday, while CB Jonathan Jones (illness), S Kyle Dugger (ankle), and DL DaMarcus Mitchell (illness) were removed from the report. They are good to go. The three questionable players are LB Anfernee Jennings (back), WR DeVante Parker (knee), and LB Josh Uche (hamstring).
Another positive for the Patriots is that starting center and team captain David Andrews will return this week after missing the last two games due to a concussion. The Jets and Colts defensive fronts are two of the best groups in the league, but New England's offensive line struggled without their leader in the middle, turning to backup James Ferentz in Andrews's absence.
|Stat (via SIS)||With David Andrews||Without David Andrews|
Without Andrews, the Pats offensive efficiency plummeted from -0.03 expected points added per play to -0.25 EPA per play. Furthermore, quarterback Mac Jones was under pressure on 39.3% of his drop-backs, while the opposing teams' pressure rate was only 28.2% with the longtime Pats center. On the ground, the Pats averaged 4.7 yards per rush with Andrews, while that number fell dramatically to a 3.6 average in Weeks 8 and 9.
The team benefits across the board offensively with Andrews back in the lineup, including at left guard, where first-rounder Cole Strange's play is solid as long as Andrews is next to him on the interior. However, the Pats offensive tackle situation is still a bit of an unknown. Third-year OT Yodny Cajuste started at right tackle against the Colts, allowing a team-high five QB pressures. Cajuste did settle in as the game wore on and was better as a run and screen blocker.
The Patriots are also searching for a home for 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn, who is falling out of favor after struggling to transition to right tackle. Wynn has taken snaps at left guard over the last two games and was seen at left tackle, his spot for his first four seasons, in Wednesday's practice.
New England's offensive line configuration coming off the bye week remains a mystery until game time, but our best guess would be: LT Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Mike Onwenu, and RT Yodny Cajuste. Wynn to the bench unless Strange struggles again.
Along with Andrews, wide receiver DeVante Parker could return this week with a questionable designation after suffering a knee injury in Week 8. With Parker back in the lineup, it gives the Pats a traditional X receiver who can win contested battles against man coverage on the outside. Parker allows the rest of the receivers to line up in their natural spots in the formation rather than forcing someone into the X role.
For example, Parker's presence could free up rookie speedster Tyquan Thornton to run more routes out of the slot or be more involved in schemed touches (jet motion, screens, etc.). Without Parker, Thornton has played more on the backside of the formation, where he's seeing press coverage, and he's been largely ineffective.
Although they'll likely be without Barmore once again, the Pats pressured Jets quarterback Zach Wilson on 41.9% of his drop-backs to force three interceptions in the first meeting, and the defense needs to replicate that formula to get another win over New York. To get the Jets into traditional drop-backs where the pass rush comes after Wilson, they need to stop the run as they did in the Meadowlands in Week 8.
Based on their past performances against rush offenses without the threat of a mobile quarterback, New England should be able to stop the run on early downs to pin their ears back in long down and distance situations where Wilson struggles under pressure (league-worst 6.6 passer rating while under pressure this season).
For the Jets, New York ruled out starting wide receiver Corey Davis (knee) and defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins (elbow) for Sunday's game. Both players are considered regular contributors for Gang Green, so the Patriots will catch a little break there.
The Patriots and Jets meet for the second time this season at 1 pm ET at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.