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Inactive Analysis: Kyle Dugger and Matthew Slater Active, Trent Brown and Hunter Henry Inactive for Patriots vs. Bills

The Patriots offense will be down Henry (knee) for the second consecutive game while Brown is a healthy inactive this week. 

WK17-2023-Inactives (1)PDC

The Patriots game-day roster is set for a divisional matchup with the Bills at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo on Sunday.

With several question marks on the injury report, New England's game-day inactives are S Jabrill Peppers (hamstring), WR Kayshon Boutte (illness), TE Hunter Henry (knee), T Trent Brown, RB JaMycal Hasty, DE Sam Roberts, and QB Nathan Rourke (emergency QB). Special teams captain Matthew Slater (hamstring) returns after a one-game absence, while safety Kyle Dugger is active despite an illness that held him out of Friday's practice. 

The Bills inactives are S Damar Hamlin, CB Kaiir Elam, LB Von Miller, G Alec Anderson, and NT Linval Joseph. Miller is a surprise inactive and, according to reports, is healthy. Miller's inactive status is a coach's decision, per reports. 

On defense, starting safety Kyle Dugger is active despite being severely under the weather. On Friday, Dugger missed the final practice this week with an illness, leaving his status in doubt for Sunday's game. It appears Dugger will play through the illness, which is significant for a Patriots defense that's already missing impact safety Jabrill Peppers.

In Week 7, the Patriots played a season-high 34.8% of their defensive snaps in a dime package (six DBs) while blitzing Bills QB Josh Allen on 43.2% of his drop-backs. The Pats put as much speed on the field as possible, often using defensive backs to blitz and stop the run. Five different defensive backs logged QB pressures in the upset win, while New England held Buffalo to a modest 38% success rate on the ground.

This time, the Patriots will face a Bills rushing attack that has re-committed to the run game under interim offensive coordinator Joe Brady. Since taking over in Week 11, the Bills are seventh in EPA per rush with Brady calling plays. Buffalo has majored in read-option plays where RB James Cook and Allen play a two-man game in the backfield, and it's been highly successful.

Do the Patriots play so much dime defense against the Bills, or is the game plan adjusted to Buffalo's rushing success and the Pats missing personnel? Peppers is one of the NFL's best run-defending safeties, and if Dugger is limited, it takes another hybrid off the field who can hold up in the box. New England's available safeties are Dugger, Jalen Mills, LB/S Marte Mapu, Adrian Phillips, and versatile DB Myles Bryant, who will play some safety. We'll monitor the chess match closely as the Patriots try to beat Allen for the second time this season.

As for the Patriots offense, tight end Hunter Henry made the trip to Buffalo but will miss his second-straight game due to a knee injury. Henry was injured in the fourth quarter against Kansas City on a low hit to the knee by Chiefs CB L'Jarius Sneed. The veteran tight end caught three touchdowns in his last two games with QB Bailey Zappe, so his absence is a blow for an offense that's also missing WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (IR).

Without Henry last week, the Patriots leaned on tight ends Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown. Gesicki mainly played detached from the formation with an 11-yard touchdown catch, while Brown contributed a 20-yard explosive play up the seam. The Pats also have practice-squad elevation Matt Sokol active. Sokol played ten snaps last week, all as a run blocker. The Patriots expect to have a similar snap distribution at tight end.

At wide receiver, the Patriots officially placed JuJu Smith-Schuster (ankle) on injured reserve, ending his season after 11 games. New England also downgraded rookie Kayshon Boutte (illness) to out on Saturday. The Patriots four active receivers are DeVante Parker, DeMario Douglas, Tyquan Thornton, and Jalen Reagor.

Along the offensive line, Trent Brown is officially inactive amidst uncertainty about his future with the team. Backup Vederian Lowe will likely start at left tackle. Brown's effort and effectiveness vs. the Broncos were fair to question on several plays. He was removed from the injury report on Friday, with an illness limiting him throughout the week. From this perspective, this is more performance-based than an injury-related inactive. The Pats have practice-squad elevation Andrew Stueber backing up Lowe. New England's projected starting offensive line is LT Vederian Lowe, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Mike Onwenu.

Lastly, special teams get a boost with the return of captain Matthew Slater. Slater sat out last week due to a hamstring injury, and the Pats had two miscues in punt coverage without him. Broncos returner Marvin Mims had a 52-yard return, and Slater's replacement at gunner, Chris Board, was called for a penalty that cost the Pats 19 yards of field position.

The Patriots are playing spoiler for the second consecutive week in Buffalo. The Bills (9-6) currently hold the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs, but four teams are on their heels at 8-7. Buffalo is in good shape as winners of three straight and four of its last five, but the playoffs aren't a done deal for the Bills. On the other hand, the Cowboys win over the Lions on Saturday night saw the Patriots leapfrog the Commanders for the third overall pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. A loss for the Patriots would move them closer to securing a top-three draft pick.

The Patriots face the Bills at Highmark Stadium in Buffalo at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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

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