The Patriots offense will be shorthanded heading into Sunday's regular-season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium.
New England's offensive line will be down two projected starters in starting left guard Cole Strange (knee) and starting right guard Mike Onwenu (ankle), while WR DeVante Parker (knee) is also inactive. Rounding out the inactives for the Patriots are LB Anfernee Jennings, DT Sam Roberts, and CB Shaun Wade. The lone positive for the Patriots offense health-wise is that lead-back Rhamondre Stevenson (illness) will play in Sunday's tilt.
The Patriots offensive line is tasked with blocking Philadelphia's vaunted defensive front without their starting guard tandem, a tall task against an Eagles pass rush that led the NFL with 70 sacks in 2022. Onwenu spent most of training camp on the physically unable to perform list after reportedly having offseason ankle surgery. Onwenu was removed from the PUP list on Aug. 23 but isn't ready to play. Strange, on the other hand, injured his knee in the first padded practice of the summer and has been out or limited ever since.
New England's projected starting offensive line without Onwenu and Strange is LT Trent Brown, LG Atonio Mafi, C David Andrews, RG Sidy Sow/Jake Andrews, and RT Calvin Anderson. Newcomers Vederian Lowe and Tyrone Wheatley are also active, so they could also factor into the game. The Patriots have interior linemen James Ferentz and Kody Russey on the practice squad but didn't elevate either for Sunday's game. The Pats top offensive line, when healthy, will be adequate. But the summer panic is now a regular-season reality because health remains a major issue.
At wide receiver, top outside receiver DeVante Parker (knee) is inactive for the Patriots this week. Parker was very limited throughout the week in practice, so it's not surprising that he's not playing against the Eagles. It leaves the Pats with only four wide receivers on the game-day roster, most of whom project as inside/slot wideouts.
Over the summer, Parker was the team's best big-play threat outside the numbers. He consistently won jump balls down the field and had moments of field-stretching burst to beat single coverage. On the one hand, the Patriots don't have another outside receiver who can replicate Parker's skill set, but they have other ways to make up for Parker's absence.
For example, New England's tight end duo of Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki have interior field-stretching ability by running the seams. Gesicki, in particular, can win in contested situations on high-point and back-shoulder throws, especially in the red zone.
The Patriots four healthy wide receivers are JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, and rookies Demario Douglas and Kayshon Boutte. Bourne and Smith-Schuster already have significant roles, and both can play the "X" spot in a pinch. But, ideally, they're being utilized as chess pieces where they can move around the formation. At the same time, the Pats will probably finally unleash rookie Demario Douglas, who dazzled in camp practices but only played five snaps in the preseason. Those three were locked into middle-of-the-field roles already, which means that Boutte could have an increased role without Parker.
Between versatile top-three receivers and their tight end duo, the Patriots have the personnel sans Parker to exploit the weak areas of the Eagles coverage. Philadelphia is a zone-heavy defense that majors in cover-three and quarters coverages, meaning offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien can create openings between the numbers.
Philly is also breaking in new faces at the linebacker level and in their safety group. With corners Darius Slay and James Bradberry on the outside, it might not have been a high-volume game for Parker anyway. Still, it's on O'Brien to find ways to open the middle of the field without his best perimeter receiver.
The Patriots come into Tom Brady's return to Foxborough as underdogs against the defending NFC Champs, and the injuries along the offensive line and to Parker certainly won't help their chances. They'll need the fill-ins for Onwenu and Strange to step up, while a mostly healthy Patriots defense must keep the Eagles in striking distances on the scoreboard.
New England hosts the Philadelphia Eagles at 4:25 p.m. ET on Sunday.