The shorthanded New England offense could have some reinforcements after a host of injured Patriots returned to practice and have a chance to play in Sunday's game against the Raiders.
According to the team's final injury report of the week, Patriots wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (concussion) and running back Rhamondre Stevenson (ankle) are officially questionable for Sunday's contest in Las Vegas. Besides two of Mac Jones's go-to offensive weapons trending in the right direction, rookie cornerback Jack Jones (knee) returned on the final day of practice at the University of Arizona and is also questionable.
Although it's mostly good news for the injured Patriots, the team ruled out WR DeVante Parker (concussion), CB Jalen Mills (groin), and OT Isaiah Wynn (foot). The Pats also listed OT Yodny Cajuste (calf/back) and RB Damien Harris (thigh) as questionable.
Starting with the offensive skill positions, the Patriots got a boost from their young weapons in the first leg of their west coast trip against the Cardinals. With rookie running backs Pierre Strong (90 total yards, TD) and Kevin Harris (26 yards, TD), wideout Tyquan Thornton (four catches, 28 yards), and swiss-army knife Marcus Jones providing a spark, the question for a Patriots offense trying to round into form for the stretch run is how much will the rookies play?
Assuming the Pats have Meyers and Stevenson in Vegas, there's still a good case to be made that the rookie Patriots should get opportunities versus the Raiders this week. Stevenson, in particular, has appeared on 67% of the offensive snaps this season due to an injury-plagued season for veteran Damien Harris and a reluctance to play the first-year backs.
New England might have both veteran running backs back, with Harris participating in practice all week. But, a Pats offense in need of as many explosive plays as it can find, found chunk plays against Arizona with Strong's 4.37-speed in the open field. Plus, the rookie Harris ran hard, and Marcus Jones needs an offensive package every single week.
On the one hand, it's great to have a healthy roster. Still, the hope is that the Patriots will continue integrating their explosive rookies into the offense in the season's final month.
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the right side of the offensive line has arguably the most challenging matchup it'll face for the remainder of the season against Raiders Pro Bowl edge rusher Maxx Crosby, who rushes over the right tackle on nearly 80% of his snaps.
Crosby's high-motor, explosive first step and ability to convert speed-to-power is a handful for any right tackle. After being inactive for the last two weeks, Cajuste practiced in a limited capacity this week and has a questionable designation. If Cajuste can't go, it'll be Connor McDermott again at right tackle.
Regardless of whether it's Cajuste or McDermott at right tackle, that's a mismatch in the Raiders favor that the Patriots will need to account for in a variety of ways. New England could chip, slide the protection, leave an extra blocker in, or continue dialing up a screen and motion-heavy game plan to use misdirection to keep Crosby from teeing off on quarterback Mac Jones.
The offensive line also has a healthy Trent Brown at left tackle, who is over a multi-week illness that caused him to lose over ten pounds. At this stage, the Pats have four-fifths of the offensive line they began minicamp with back in the spring, and Wynn hasn't been spotted in Tucson this week, meaning this is the group they have with only one spot up for grabs (right tackle).
With this group's health and continuity improving, it's time to start seeing better execution on the field. This is mainly the group the Patriots envisioned having, so it's time to perform.
Moving over to the defense, the Patriots have had some shuffling at the cornerback position, with regular contributors going in and out of the lineup.
After being a limited participant in the first two days of practice, veteran corner Jalen Mills (groin) did not participate on Friday and is officially out. Mills was hoping to return this week after missing the last two games, but his return will need to wait at least another week.
The good news for the Patriots defense is that rookie Jack Jones returned to practice after sitting out the first two sessions at the University of Arizona. Jones suffered a knee injury in Monday night's win over the Cardinals but is making progress and could play on Sunday.
With Mills out and Jones dealing with an injury, New England will likely lean on the trio they finished the game with against Arizona: Jonathan Jones, Myles Bryant, and Marcus Jones.
The Patriots secondary has a challenging matchup against Davante Adams and a Raiders passing attack that could have slot receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller back. Although the NFL's leading rusher, Josh Jacobs, is also a major threat, we discussed in Scouting the Raiders how the Pats might favor numbers in coverage over the run defense. Depending on Renfrow and Waller's availability, that increases the likelihood that the Vegas passing game will be the focus of Bill Belichick's game plan.
Another positive development for the Patriots defense is the potential return for second-year interior rusher Christian Barmore, who began his 21-day window to return from injured reserve. Barmore was at practice all three days. With opposing offensive lines loading up on edge rushers Matthew Judon and Josh Uche, Barmore's interior presence would make an already potent pass rush even better. Judon, Uche, Wise, Barmore, Ekuale; that's a lot of pressure.
New England has until Saturday at 4 pm ET to activate Barmore from IR to make him eligible to play on Sunday, and the same goes for Renfrow and Waller with the Raiders. Saturday's deadline is also when we'll learn if the Pats elevated any players from the practice squad.
The Patriots will travel to Las Vegas after spending the week in Tucson on Saturday, ahead of Sunday's showdown against the Raiders at 4:05 pm ET at Allegiant Stadium.