We knew the New England Patriots would be down several starting offensive linemen for Sunday’s matchup with the Houston Texans.
Turns out they’ll be shorthanded at an important defensive position, as well.
The Patriots on Saturday ruled out starting outside cornerback Jalen Mills, who was limited in practice this week with a hamstring injury.
Mills started New England’s first four games in place of Stephon Gilmore and has held up well in coverage. Last Sunday, he held Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Chris Godwin to three catches on five targets for 55 yards.
Who will start opposite J.C. Jackson with Mills sidelined? The Patriots don’t have many desirable options.
The next man up likely will be Joejuan Williams, who was a healthy scratch for last week’s loss to the Bucs. This would be the first career start for the disappointing 2019 second-round draft pick.
Williams has played more than 15 defensive snaps in just six of his 27 career games.
“Each week is a different week here in terms of game plan and matchups and special teams roles and so forth,” head coach Bill Belichick said this week when asked about Williams. “I think Joejuan’s played. I think he will play. You know, every week you’ll probably come in here and ask about somebody, ‘Why did this guy play? Why didn’t that guy play?’ You can only activate the number of players we can activate, and we activate the ones we feel would have the biggest impact on that particular game, and that’s definitely not the same every week.”
Rookie Shaun Wade would have been another candidate to replace Mills, but he also was ruled out for this game with a concussion. Jonathan Jones is a slot corner, and Justin Bethel rarely plays outside of special teams, logging just 15 total defensive snaps since joining the Patriots in 2019.
Jones and Bethel are listed as questionable for Sunday, though both made the trip to Houston.
The Patriots also elevated Myles Bryant from the practice squad for Sunday’s game, but he’s more of a slot/safety hybrid.
Mills’ absence underscores just how shallow this position group is without Gilmore, whom the Patriots traded to the Carolina Panthers this week. The 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year wouldn’t have been eligible to play in this game anyway — he’s on the physically unable to perform list until Week 7 — but the Patriots aren’t built to withstand an injury to either of their starting corners.
The Patriots are fortunate this week’s game is against the Texans, who have scored just nine total points in rookie quarterback Davis Mills’ two starts.