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Analysis: Patriots Rule Out Three, List 16 Players as Questionable for Sunday's Game vs. Bills

Although the Patriots ruled out three players for Sunday's game against the Bills, TE Hunter Henry (ankle) returned to practice on Friday and has a chance to play. 

Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85).
Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85).

The Patriots have a season-high 19 players listed on their final injury report for Sunday's home divisional contest against the Bills at Gillette Stadium.

New England has ruled out OL Riley Reiff (knee), pass-rusher Josh Uche (knee/ankle), and rookie defensive lineman Keion White (concussion) for Sunday's matchup with Buffalo.

The Patriots also listed 16 players as questionable: C David Andrews (ankle), DL Christian Barmore (knee), WR Kayshon Boutte (hamstring), OT Trent Brown (chest), DB Cody Davis (knee), WR Demario Douglas (concussion), S Kyle Dugger (foot), DL Trey Flowers (foot), DL Davon Godchaux (ankle), TE Hunter Henry (ankle), DB Jack Jones (hamstring), CB Jonathan Jones (knee), OL Mike Onwenu (ankle), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion), G Cole Strange (knee), and CB Shaun Wade (shoulder).

The list's volume is daunting. But head coach Bill Belichick downplayed that nearly a third of the active roster is on the injury report. Reading between the lines, and this is just our interpretation, the team is managing the bumps and bruises players sustain throughout the season during the practice week, so most of those questionable will play.

"The injury report, it is what it is. We're required to list certain guys in certain areas based on what they do, but we'll see," Belichick said. "The guys are working hard to be out there. They're getting better. Where will they be by game time? We might know exactly where that is until we get a little closer to the game, but I think everybody is heading on the right track."

Although Belichick sounded optimistic, quarterback Mac Jones could be without one of his most reliable receivers in a game where the Patriots need to score some points to compete with Buffalo's third-ranked offense. The good news is that Henry participated in a limited capacity on Friday after missing the first two practices of the week, giving him a chance to play on Sunday after his ankle was rolled up on last week.

Henry is second on the team in receptions (18) and receiving yards (183) as one of Jones's security blankets in the passing game. The veteran tight end is a savvy route-runner who often finds the zone voids to be a safe target for the quarterback and has also produced three first downs on four catches against man coverage in the first six weeks.

After pairing Henry with veteran tight end Mike Gesicki, the Pats offense under Bill O'Brien unsurprisingly ranks second with 43.9% of their offensive plays coming with two-plus tight ends on the field. A good chunk of those plays are Gesicki and Henry on the field together, but blocking tight end Pharaoh Brown has also factored into their multi-tight end sets.

Brown continues to be a decent blocker and, more surprisingly, a contributor in yards after the catch on limited targets this season. With the Buffalo run defense being weaker than their pass defense, the expectation was that Brown would have a prominent role regardless, but he could play an even larger role if Henry is on a snap limit or is unavailable.

Additionally, the Patriots passing game might get a boost from wide receiver Demario Douglas's return after the speedy rookie missed last week's game with a concussion. The question is, will veterans JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker still be featured despite their struggles this season? Smith-Schuster also has a chance to return after a one-game absence, but the free-agent addition has yet to produce at the levels the team hoped when they signed the former Pro Bowler in the offseason. Similarly, Parker's performance in Vegas left much to be desired, including a bad drop of a Mac Jones deep ball late in the game last Sunday.

As much as downsizing their roles for possibly more effective and potentially younger options would make sense, especially for a 1-5 football team, it doesn't seem to be in Belichick's nature. External forces might be clamoring to see Kendrick Bourne, Tyquan Thornton, Kayshon Boutte, and Douglas get most of the snaps against the Bills. But we'll believe this coaching staff will bench Parker and Smith-Schuster when we see it. Those are their two highest-paid players at the position, and the feeling here is that they're going to ride or die with Parker and JuJu.

Lastly, on offense, the Patriots offensive line will likely look similar to what it did in Vegas last week. With Reiff out and projected starting guards Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu dealing with injuries, there aren't many other options to improve things. Despite being listed as questionable, captain David Andrews (ankle) told reporters he'll play on Sunday.

Unless either of the guards are ready to go, the only other possibility is that the Patriots could elevate Conor McDermott from the practice squad as an option at right tackle. McDermott signed with the Pats practice squad this week after reaching an injury settlement with the team to release him from injured reserve over the summer.

This season, Patriots right tackles rank dead-last, allowing 36 quarterback pressures, and are 32nd with a 27.9 out of 100 pass-blocking grade in the first six weeks, per PFF. In six starts last season, McDermott only allowed 11 quarterback pressures with zero sacks. McDermott would, in theory, present a viable upgrade over Vederian Lowe at right tackle.

The most likely offensive line combination is a holdover from last week, which was the following: LT Trent Brown, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Vederian Lowe. But McDermott and Onwenu have a chance to play over Lowe and Sow on the right side.

Moving over to the defense, the Patriots continue to take hits on the edge, with Uche and White being unavailable, along with top pass-rusher Matthew Judon (elbow, IR). The Pats will likely lean on edge-setter Anfernee Jennings and versatile LB Jahlani Tavai to set the edge against Josh Allen.

New England's pass rush has taken a huge hit without Judon in recent weeks, only tallying two sacks with a 25.8% pressure rate sans their only Pro Bowler (Judon). Jennings and Tavai are solid run defenders, and their power to set the edge could come in handy to keep an off-script artist like Allen in the pocket, but the Pats need to generate impactful pressure somehow. The Patriots could use their simulated pressure package to create free runners to the quarterback without blitzing. Still, without their top two pass-rushers, it could exacerbate an already slumping pass rush.

For the Bills, head coach Sean McDermott confirmed this morning that DT Ed Oliver (foot) won't play on Sunday. The Pats catch a break with not having to face Oliver, who is a disruptive interior pass-rusher that would've given their backup guards problems. Former Patriots running back Damien Harris will also miss his return to Gillette Stadium. Harris was placed on injured reserve due to a neck/concussion injury.

The final piece to the puzzle for the Patriots roster is activations from the reserve lists, along with potential practice squad elevations. New England has until next week to activate DL Trey Flowers (foot) and DB Cody Davis (knee) off the PUP list, and Flowers seems like a strong candidate, given the injuries on defense. Second-year CB Jack Jones (hamstring) also opened his practice window to return from injured reserve this week. With the Pats secondary already shorthanded and veteran Jonathan Jones fighting through injuries, Jack Jones being back in the mix would give the group a boost. Jones is also known for his ball-hawking skills, which could help a defense that ranks last with only three takeaways on the season.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said they'll likely wait until Saturday to announce any roster move. But the team released rookie DB Ameer Speed on Wednesday to open a 53-man roster spot, with many anticipating that Speed one of the PUP/IR guys takes his active roster spot. Speed was reportedly claimed by the Colts on waivers, so he won't be returning to the Patriots practice squad. We'll have an update on those moves on Saturday.

The Patriots look to snap a three-game losing streak when they host the Bills at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

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