The Patriots are heading down to South Beach with a mostly healthy roster for Sunday's divisional matchup against the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
As New England looks to get its first road win in Miami since the 2019 season, the lone player ruled out for the Patriots is OT Calvin Anderson, who wasn't projected to start before missing the last two practices with an undisclosed illness. According to head coach Bill Belichick, Anderson is under the weather for a different reason than the illness that knocked him out of training camp this past summer.
The Pats listed eight players as questionable for Sunday's game: DL Christian Barmore (knee), OT Trent Brown (ankle/knee), DB Jonathan Jones (knee), OL Vederian Lowe (ankle), LB Josh Uche (ankle/toe), CB Shaun Wade (shoulder), DL Keion White (concussion), and DL Deatrich Wise (shoulder). DL Davon Godchaux, TE Hunter Henry, RB Ty Montgomery, and G Cole Strange were removed from the injury report. They're good to go.
Starting with the defense, the Patriots could get a boost along the defensive front as pass-rusher Josh Uche (ankle/toe) and rookie defensive end Keion White (concussion) have a chance to play vs. the Dolphins. Both explosive edge rushers missed last week's game against the Bills but haven't been ruled out for Sunday, with Uche as a name to monitor when the team announces any downgrades en route to Maimi on Saturday.
Without several regular contributors on the edge of the defense, New England relied more on fourth-year OLB Anfernee Jennings (69 snaps) and linebacker Mack Wilson (15 snaps) to fill roles along the defensive front. With the opportunity to finally contribute meaningfully due to all the injuries at the position, Jennings is showing that he belongs in this league.
The 2020 third-rounder leads all edge rushers with ten run stops since making his season debut in Week 3 and added three quarterback pressures in the win over the Bills last week. Jennings's above-average length and playing strength allow him to set a sturdy edge, while he can also convert that power to compress the pocket as a pass rusher. The former Alabama defender plays the Patriots brand of football as a 3-4 outside linebacker in Belichick's scheme.
Although it would be great to see White, a 2023 second-round pick, emerge as a difference-maker for this team, Jennings has earned the right to maintain a role in the defense with his play. Since the Patriots will likely be without star edge rusher Matthew Judon for the foreseeable future, the snaps are there for Jennings and White to find playing time.
White has been active for six games in his rookie season, missing just one game with a concussion, while playing 33.2% of the defensive snaps in the first six weeks. In those snaps, the rookie has shown flashes of noticeable power, length, and pop in his hands and has also flashed decent initial quickness to slip into gaps to cause disruption. However, as a young player still relatively new to the position, White's block recognition and gap discipline need work. That's certainly one area where Jennings, or steady LB Jahlani Tavai, who played 55 combined snaps at outside linebacker in the last two weeks, have a leg-up on White.
Still, for a team needing building blocks for the future, White has been noticeable enough to continue giving him reps to develop his game as a high-upside prospect. We expect all three players, Jennings, Tavai, and White, to have some involvement in the defense.
Along with not having Judon this time, the Patriots are also playing the high-powered Dolphins without first-round corner Christian Gonzalez. But the good news is that the Tyreek Hill stopper, Jonathan Jones, is on track to play this week.
The Patriots were thrown a mid-week curveball before seeing Miami in Week 2 when Jones sustained an in-practice injury to his ankle. The veteran ended up sitting out the game but is back to resume his showdown with Hill. In six matchups with the Dolphins star, Jones has held Hill to 147 yards and zero touchdowns (24.5 YPG). The Pats have used different coverages on Hill, but Jones has been the primary defender containing Hill over the years.
New England's defense will try to limit the most explosive offense in the NFL. Luckily, they'll be as healthy as you could hope seven games into a 17-game regular season.
Moving over to the offense, two questions remain about the Patriots game plan offensively heading into their second matchup against veteran defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's defense. First, coming off their best performance of the season, will the Pats stick with the offensive line combination that worked vs. the Bills? My gut says that will most likely be the case.
Although it was aided by offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien's play-calling and the quarterback's quick release, the Patriots held Buffalo to a season-low 21.2% pressure rate with the following combination: LT Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Mike Onwenu. The Patriots coaches played Onwenu's role moving forward close to the vest, but the only logical option besides big Mike is practice-squad addition, Conor McDermott.
McDermott is ramping things back up after re-signing with the team once his injury settlement expired, but we'd bet that the Patriots will try to build continuity with the group that played well last Sunday. O-Line coach Adrian Klemm noted how Onwenu moving outside benefited the team, so expect an if ain't it broke, don't fix it approach.
The other shoe to drop for the Patriots roster-wise is at wide receiver. New England has seven wide receivers on the 53-man roster, depending on how you want to label veteran Ty Montgomery. The team signed WR Jalen Reagor to the roster this week after the former first-rounder was active for the last three games as a practice squad elevation. And now, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster is off the injury report after missing the last two games with a concussion.
Smith-Schuster's return and Reagor's addition to the roster creates a logjam at receiver. Since last week's mix worked, it's common sense to stick with that formula. Kendrick Bourne and rookie Demario Douglas led the way, with DeVante Parker playing most of the "X" snaps. However, Reagor added a speed element in specific packages instead of Parker.
As ineffective as Smith-Schuster has been in his first season with the Patriots, it's a conundrum what the team will do now that all seven wideouts are available. It seems obvious that Smith-Schuster and rookie Kayshon Boutte, who has been inactive in every game since Week 2, would be the odd men out. But the Pats gave a lucrative free-agent contract to JuJu, which makes that a tough organizational decision. While fully understanding the optics of the situation, Smith-Schuster, if fully medically cleared, will probably have a reduced game-day role similar to Parker last week. It's just too difficult to envision they'll fully cast him aside, given the financial commitment to JuJu.
After only three snaps last week, second-year WR Tyquan Thornton's role is also in doubt. Following an unsuccessful shot play following Jabrill Peppers's first-quarter interception, Thornton sat from the 9:42 mark of the first quarter to his lone second-half snap last week (9:03 4th QTR). Although it's impossible to say for sure, my read on the situation was that Thornton ran the wrong route on the shot play, and the 2022 second-rounder has now been passed on the depth chart by Reagor. In practice this week, Thornton was seen working as a gunner in punt coverage, which could be another way to add to his game-day value. Thornton has zero special-teams snaps in his 15 games with the Patriots.
If our read on Thornton's play is correct, there aren't any guarantees that the 50th overall pick in last year's draft will be active on Sunday. The Pats could finagle six wide receivers onto the game-day roster, but it would leave them short in other areas. To make a long story short, besides Boutte, another wide receiver will likely be a healthy scratch.
For the Dolphins, although they're healthier than they appeared earlier this week, the Pats will catch some breaks with Miami's injury situation. Dolphins starting offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Isaiah Wynn, as well as breakout rookie RB De'Von Achane, are on injured reserve, meaning they won't play on Sunday. Speedy RB Raheem Mostert (ankle), stud safety Javon Holland (concussion), CBs Jalen Ramsey (knee), Xavien Howard (groin), Cam Smith (foot), and Nik Needham (Achilles) are among nine questionable. However, Dolphins WR Tyreek Hill (hip) was removed and won't carry an injury designation into Sunday's game, and the same goes for WR Jaylen Waddle (back), so they're good to go.
With the Patriots traveling to Miami on Saturday, the next steps from a roster perspective are day-of-travel downgrades and practice squad elevations. The team will announce any downgrades en route to Miami, while the deadline for practice squad elevations is 4 p.m. ET, so we'll keep you updated on all fronts with our usual Saturday roster moves post.
The Patriots are as fully equipped as possible to upset another divisional opponent this week as they head down to Miami for Sunday's pivotal contest.
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