A short-handed Patriots offense will need to keep pace with Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins in Monday night's clash against the Cardinals.
New England already ruled out wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (concussion), OT Isaiah Wynn (foot), and cornerback Jalen Mills (groin) before traveling to Arizona on Saturday. And, as expected, running back Damien Harris is also inactive for the second consecutive game due to a thigh injury. Rounding out the game-day inactives are DB Joshuah Bledsoe, LB Cameron McGrone, and DT Sam Roberts.
On a positive note, the Patriots will have offensive lineman Trent Brown (illness) and Yodny Cajuste (calf/back). After listing both players as questionable, they're officially active, meaning Cajuste will return to the lineup after sitting out last week's loss to the Bills.
Anticipating a heavy pressure plan from an aggressive Cardinals defense that ranks third in blitz rate, the Pats offensive line should have arguably its best five-man combination to protect quarterback Mac Jones on Monday night.
Here's the estimated starting offensive line: LT Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Mike Onwenu, and RT Yodny Cajuste. If Brown or Cajuste can't play the whole game, expect Connor McDermott to get some run at offensive tackle.
The Patriots have their ideal starting five along the O-Line, but Jones needs another quick outlet to beat the blitz without Meyers. New England could rely on running back Rhamondre Stevenson out of the backfield to provide a "hot" route for Mac or may look for the tight ends and wideout Kendrick Bourne in a Meyers-like role over the middle. Regardless of who is that immediate option to beat the blitz, Jones will need that safety valve to handle the pressure.
There's also the school of thought that Jones could attack single coverage and fewer defenders in the backend when the Cardinals send pressure by taking shots downfield. As the Pats quarterback told Patriots.com earlier this week, the key to beating the blitz is taking the space the defense gives you.
"You just got to go through your reads and take it. Whatever they give you, you take it. If they give you the deep ball, take it, they give you the short, take it," Jones said on Thursday.
Despite pressuring the quarterback with sheer numbers at a high rate, the Cardinals pass defense ranks 25th in Football Outsiders' DVOA metric because it has struggled to cover and is without starting cornerback Byron Murphy on Monday night.
If the Patriots can keep Jones clean long enough to exploit the holes in Arizona's secondary, there will be open space against an aggressive Cardinals defense.
For Bill Belichick's defense, there aren't any unexpected inactives, with starting corner Jalen Mills already ruled out before Monday night's game.
The Pats secondary will likely have a similar look as it did against the Bills, where the rookie Joneses played a larger role. Third-round pick Marcus Jones set a new career-high with 34 defensive snaps last week, while fourth-rounder Jack Jones played 57 snaps, his second-most in a game in his first season.
Although he was elevated from the practice squad on Monday, second-year linebacker Cameron McGrone is inactive. Fellow practice squad call-up Jamie Collins is active and will appear in his second game of the season. Our best guess on McGrone is that one of the Pats regulars at linebacker is dealing with something making them a game-time decision, so McGrone was elevated as insurance in case that player couldn't play.
With the team needing a win in primetime, Belichick's plan against Murray's elusiveness and instant acceleration could include more speed at the linebacker level, with Collins setting the edge.
The Patriots will face the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium with kickoff at 8:15 pm ET on Monday night.