The Patriots will face a formidable Indianapolis Colts defensive front with a short-handed offensive line on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
On Friday's final injury report of the week, the Patriots have already ruled out starting center David Andrews (concussion), OT Marcus Cannon (concussion), and wide receiver DeVante Parker (knee). The team also listed seven players as questionable, including running back Damien Harris, who was upgraded to a limited participant in practice on Friday.
The remaining players who are questionable for Sunday's game are as follows: DL Christian Barmore (knee), S Kyle Dugger (ankle), CB Jack Jones (illness), RB Pierre Strong Jr. (hamstring), LB Josh Uche (hamstring), and DL Deatrich Wise (ankle).
After allowing a 38.6% pressure rate and struggling to generate rushing yards before contact last week, New England could have multiple backups start along the offensive line on Sunday. Based on the sense we get in the locker room, the starting five most likely puts Isaiah Wynn back at right tackle, with James Ferentz once again filling in for Andrews at center.
Andrews has been back in the facility since last Thursday, and teammates have noted that he's helping as best he can while in concussion protocol. But he still hasn't practiced and will now miss his second-straight game.
During practice this week, third-year tackle Yodny Cajuste mixed in at right tackle, but stand-out right guard Mike Onwenu primarily stayed inside. The Pats have finally found a permanent home for Onwenu, and although he might help the team best in the short-term at tackle, they don't seem eager to move Onwenu around now that he has settled in at guard.
The questions for the Patriots are how long of a leash Wynn has and how do the Pats prevent Indianapolis's talented defensive line from taking over the game?
Among tackles who have played at least 50 percent of their team's offensive snaps, Wynn has the sixth-worst pass-blocking grade according to Pro Football Focus this season (51.9). Along with allowing four sacks and 14 total pressures in pass protection, Wynn is also tied for the league lead in penalties by an offensive lineman with eight flags on the season.
Based on his film, it's clear that Wynn's transition to right tackle is impacting his play. With his feet now flipped, the fifth-year pro is struggling to gain ground in his kick slides when he comes out of his stance, so he's giving up the edge too easily or getting overpowered by bull rushes.
From there, you can understand why he's false starting often because he's trying to over-compensate for his lacking footwork by getting out his stance early. However, Wynn's vibe has also been off going back to the spring when he was informed of the switch to right tackle.
Ultimately, the Pats most talented five along the offensive line includes Wynn. But if the coaching staff can't get him to buy into playing on the right side, Cajuste's athleticism and foot speed flashed in training camp and might be worth an in-game look at this stage.
The West Virginia product was a highly-touted prospect coming out of college who specialized in pass protection in the Mountaineers' air raid system. After three years of injury issues, Cajuste has recovered from a severe thumb sprain that landed him on injured reserve.
The Colts feature one of the NFL's best interior tandems in two-time Pro Bowler DeForest Buckner and underrated nose tackle Grover Stewart. Indianapolis also keeps you honest on the edge, with Yannick Ngakoue leading the team with 27 quarterback pressures and Rhode Island native Kwity Paye coming on as of late in Gus Bradley's even front system.
This season, the Colts are sixth in Football Outsiders' rush defense DVOA and rank 12th in pressure rate despite being near the bottom of the league in blitz percentage. In other words, they generate enough pressure with four-man rushes to impact the quarterback.
Running right at the Colts defensive front with a depleted offensive line is not a likely avenue for success this week while dialing up deep shots in the passing game won't work either.
Instead, the Patriots could feature a quick passing game and rely more on runs away from the interior of the Colts defense, such as tosses and jet motion designs to get out on the perimeter.
We'll also continue to bang the drum for a healthy dosage of run-pass options. As they did last week, the RPOs lighten the box by forcing the defense to line up players over the potential pass routes or give the offense a numbers advantage for their pass-catchers. The run-pass options will help the offensive line by giving them fewer defenders to block in the running game or quick throws on screens and slants to the outside.
Until the Patriots get things calmed down on the offensive line, the play-calling on offense must account for the fact that they're short-handed and likely overmatched in the trenches this week.
The Patriots will also face the Colts without wide receiver DeVante Parker, who suffered a knee injury on the first play from scrimmage against the Jets last week. Without Parker, the Pats mainly leaned on Jakobi Meyers, rookie Tyquan Thornton, and Kendrick Bourne at wideout.
Indianapolis's defense has also struggled to cover tight ends, and two tight end sets this season. The Colts allow over 52 receiving yards per game to tight ends and are 30th in expected points added against 12 personnel. With the Pats missing a key piece at wide receiver, this could be a big week for Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith to get involved in the offense.
Lastly, New England catches a break with Colts All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor (ankle) ruled out for Sunday's game. Taylor has been banged up this season, and the offensive line has struggled, but he accumulated 170 rushing yards and a 67-yard touchdown run against the Patriots in last season's matchup in Indy.
Without Taylor, the Colts are expected to give most of the carries to backup Deon Jackson. Trade deadline acquisition Zack Moss could also factor in, while former Broncos running back Philip Lindsay is on Indianapolis's practice squad.
Jackson is a big back at 220 pounds who has a good natural feel for the position. He also had 121 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in a start earlier this year but lacks the explosive gear in space that a healthy Taylor brings to the table. Still, Indy can stress the Patriots defense with designed quarterback runs and option plays that have hurt them in the past now that second-year quarterback Sam Ehlinger is under center.
With two regulars already ruled out, New England will likely elevate an offensive lineman or two from the practice squad on Saturday. Undrafted rookie center Kody Russey and guard Bill Murray are prime candidates for standard elevations. We'll keep you updated on that front.
The Patriots host the Indianapolis Colts with kickoff at 1 pm ET at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
How will the #Patriots make do along the offensive line with David Andrews and Marcus Cannon ruled out with concussions on Sunday?
Discussed the likely starting five, Cajuste's chances, play-calling tricks to help the OL, potential PSquad elevations here, & more injury report thoughts.