The Patriots offensive line will be down a starter for Sunday's home tilt against the Commanders at Gillette Stadium.
New England's game-day inactives are WR DeVante Parker (concussion), CB Alex Austin, DE Sam Roberts, WR Kayshon Boutte, QB Will Grier (emergency QB), and starting left tackle Trent Brown (ankle/knee).
Brown was battling his multiple injuries in last week's loss to the Dolphins, allowing a season-high four quarterback pressures. After trading top edge rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat at the trade deadline, it's not a terrible spot for the Patriots to give Brown a week off.
The Pats elevated OT Conor McDermott from the practice squad as insurance in case Brown wasn't available. With Brown out, the Patriots could start McDermott at left tackle, with Mike Onwenu staying at right tackle for the third consecutive game. McDermott started six games at right tackle for New England last season without allowing a sack.
The tackle spots may remain functional without Brown in the lineup. However, question marks remain at both guard spots against Pro Bowlers Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. The Commanders might not have Sweat and Young anymore, but Washington's defensive tackle duo is a challenging matchup for rookie Sidy Sow (RG) and Cole Strange (LG), which gives us more concerns than the Patriots tackle situation. We'd project the Patriots offensive line to be: LT Conor McDermott, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow, and RT Mike Onwenu.
At wide receiver, despite head coach Bill Belichick praising Boutte's practice performance this week, the first-year wideout still can't crack the game-day lineup. Boutte has been inactive since struggling in the regular-season opener vs. the Eagles. Most expected the rookie to get an opportunity to play after Bourne's season-ending knee injury and Parker's concussion. But he remains inactive, a head-scratcher, with the Pats 31st-ranked scoring offense searching for answers.
If the LSU product can't be active with multiple receivers out due to injury, what would need to happen for Boutte to get on the field? What do the Patriots have to lose at 2-6? It's highly unlikely that Boutte would be the savior for this offense, but the coaching staff burying recent draft picks with some promise continues to be puzzling from this perspective.
The unknown for the Patriots wide receiver group is how the roles will declare themselves once Sunday's game begins. With rookie Demario Douglas continuing as the top slot receiver, the thought here is that Smith-Schuster will be given first dibs on Kendrick Bourne's snaps as the primary Z receiver, while Reagor and Thornton will likely divvy up the X receiver snaps.
Moving over to the defense, the Patriots pass rush will get a boost against Commanders quarterback Sam Howell, with pass-rush specialist Josh Uche returning to the lineup. Uche (ankle/toe) has missed the last two games but is back in the lineup to face Howell, who has been sacked a league-high 41 times in the first eight games of the season.
Without star pass-rusher Matthew Judon and Uche, New England has turned up the heat over the last two weeks with a blitz rate of 39.8%. The Pats have only generated a 25% pressure rate without blitzing in the last two games, which was an issue when marrying the rush with coverage against the Dolphins last week.
Howell has struggled under pressure and against the blitz this season, so the Patriots may come after the Commanders quarterback, even with Uche available. Still, the Pats need to find ways to generate more pressure on standard rushes, so getting their best one-on-one pass-rusher back should help them apply more pressure on Howell on Sunday.
After exiting last week's game with a hamstring injury, Patriots linebacker/captain Ja'Whaun Bentley is active, as is nose tackle Davon Godchaux (illness), with the Pats active roster nearly at full strength on the defensive side of the ball.
With two games remaining before the bye week, the Patriots could gain momentum heading into the bye week with two winnable games against the Commanders (3-5) and Colts (3-5). New England returns home on Sunday and then will make the trip across the pond to face Indianapolis in Germany next week amidst a stretch that needs to net two wins.
The Patriots and Commanders will kick off at 1 p.m. ET at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.