Foxborough, MA – It's relatively good news for the Patriots on the pre-game injury front heading into a massive showdown with the Saints at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
After listing ten players as questionable and ruling star pass-rusher Matthew Judon (elbow) out on Friday, New England will have starting left tackle Trent Brown (chest), RB Rhamondre Stevenson (thigh), and CB Jonathan Jones (ankle) active this week. Jones will return after a three-week absence, giving a secondary a much-needed boost to lessen the blow from losing rookie CB Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) last week. On Saturday, the team placed Gonzalez on injured reserve as he's reportedly expected to miss the rest of the season.
The Patriots inactives for Sunday's contest against the Saints are LB Matthew Judon (elbow), G Cole Strange (knee), OT Calvin Anderson, OT Tyron Wheatley, and WR Kayshon Boutte. The team has also designated QB Will Grier as the emergency quarterback. The Saints inactives are TE Juwan Johnson, S Lonnie Johnson Jr., QB Jake Luton, G Andrus Peat, WR A.T. Perry, DE Kyle Phillips, and OL Landon Young. Without Peat (concussion), the Saints will likely have backup G James Hurst in the starting lineup.
Starting with the defensive backfield, the Patriots will have two additions to replace Gonzalez, with Jones returning from a three-game absence and newly acquired CB J.C. Jackson active in his return to New England. Following the injury to Gonzalez, the team re-acquired Jackson via trade with the Chargers, where Jackson failed as a big-ticket free-agent addition for LA.
Although it was a rocky season-plus for Jackson in Los Angeles, including a season-ending knee injury that ended his 2022 campaign after five games, Jackson made the Pro Bowl with the Patriots in 2021. The ball-hawking corner registered 25 interceptions in four seasons with the Pats, and as he works his way back to full strength, Jackson's coverage metrics were beginning to level off in two games with the Chargers this season. In two games this season, Jackson allowed a 46.2% catch rate into his coverage, in line with his 52.4% catch rate in 2021.
Besides a significant loss in Judon, the Patriots defensive front will have DL Christian Barmore (knee) and DT Davon Godchaux (ankle) active again despite their injuries. After the team didn't activate veteran DL Trey Flowers this week, second-rounder Keion White will likely step into a bigger role without Judon alongside Josh Uche, Anfernee Jennings, and Jahlani Tavai. White has shown flashes of explosive movements to compress the pocket, using his length to disrupt passing lanes, registering six quarterback pressures in 46 opportunities.
The Patriots lost arguably their two best players indefinitely in last Sunday's loss, making a bad day in Dallas worse. Losing Gonzalez and Judon will likely inhibit the defense from taking the next step. Still, if New England can revive Jackson's career and combine that with Jones's return and the emergence of White, head coach Bill Belichick should have enough talent to remain competitive on defense.
Moving over to the offense, the Patriots will have lead-back Rhamondre Stevenson and officially activated OL Riley Reiff on Saturday. Reiff is active after missing the first four games, giving the Pats the option to try out their originally planned offensive line combination. In the first four weeks, New England ranks dead-last in pass-blocking win rate and 20th in run-blocking grade, while the Pats right tackles have allowed a combined 29 quarterback pressures. Reiff had his issues at tackle over the summer, so he moved inside to guard. But it's hard to envision it being worse with Reiff in the spot he was brought in to play this season.
The three most likely offensive line combinations with Reiff back in the mix are as follows:
- LT Trent Brown, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Michael Onwenu, RT Riley Reiff
- LT Trent Brown, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Riley Reiff, RT Michael Onwenu
- Or the status quo: LT Brown, LG Mafi, C Andrews, RG Onwenu, RT Vederian Lowe
From this perspective, the performance of the O-Line in the first month of the season warrants a change at right tackle. Still, it comes down to whether the coaching staff believes the combinations with Reiff have had enough practice time together to perform well on game day.
Ultimately, New England needs to make the best of adding Jackson and Reiff to the roster this week, with Jones returning from injury. The Pats need to take advantage of an easier two-game stretch after a difficult opening month, starting with a win on Sunday.
The Patriots look to bounce back from a disappointing loss in Dallas when they host the New Orleans Saints for a 1 p.m. ET kickoff at Gillette Stadium.