Patriots Mailbag: How Will Key Injuries Impact O-Line Vs. Colts?

Plus: Could Jack Jones contend for Defensive Rookie of the Year?

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November 4

Time for another New England Patriots mailbag. Questions!

@fastinred98
what could that o-line look like, i’m talking right tackle pass protection issues
I had written out a full response to this one. Then the Patriots announced that Marcus Cannon was in concussion protocol. That changes things.

There’s a chance the Patriots could have Cannon or center David Andrews (also in concussion protocol) back in time for Sunday’s game, but it seems likely they’ll be without both as they host the Indianapolis Colts this Sunday at Gillette Stadium.

What would a New England offensive line look like without Andrews and Cannon? Here are four potential configurations:

Trent Brown – Cole Strange – James Ferentz – Mike Onwenu – Isaiah Wynn
This is the most likely combo: The Patriots returning to the O-line they used for the first six weeks of this season, just with Ferentz replacing Andrews. Wynn, who’s struggled in his transition to right tackle, hasn’t started a game since Week 6, with Cannon getting the nod in the last two games.

Brown – Strange – Ferentz – Onwenu – Yodny Cajuste
Cajuste likely will be the Patriots’ swing tackle Sunday if Cannon can’t go. But could the Patriots instead choose to elevate him over Wynn? Cajuste performed well enough this summer to earn a roster spot and convince the Patriots to trade Justin Herron, and he returned to the active roster last week after a four-game stint on injured reserve. He only has started two games in his career and was benched in one of them, so his regular-season experience is limited. But Wynn hasn’t given the Patriots what they need from the right tackle position this season. Why not give Cajuste a shot?

Brown – Strange – Ferentz – Wynn – Onwenu
Onwenu has been very good at right guard this season, and the Patriots seem reluctant to move him out of that spot. But he’s also played right tackle at a high level in his career. Wynn recently has been taking practice reps at guard, and he filled in for Strange when the rookie was benched in the second half of the Jets game. Can he play right guard? Who knows. If the Patriots believe he can, this could be a combo worth trying.

Wynn – Strange – Ferentz – Onwenu – Brown
Switcheroo! There’s been no evidence that the Patriots are considering swapping Wynn and Trent Brown back to the positions they played last season. But with right tackle continuing to be the weak spot in this line, would they abandon this experiment and revert to the 2021 setup?

Regardless, the Patriots’ O-line is coming off arguably its worst performance of the season, and it likely will be down two projected starters against a Colts front seven that features one of the NFL’s premier defensive tackles in DeForest Buckner. This could be bad news for Mac Jones, who was battered in last week’s loss to the New York Jets.

@ollieiselin
Any possibility Jack Jones is DROTY??
He’s in the conversation, but I wouldn’t say he’s one of the front-runners at this point. The latest Defensive Rookie of the Year odds from DraftKings have Jones at +1000, tied with Detroit Lions defensive end Aidan Hutchinson for fifth-best behind Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner (+200), Seattle Seahawks corner Tariq Woolen (+350), Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre (+800) and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Travon Walker (+900).

It hurts Jones’ case that all five of those players are starters with much larger roles while he is part of a rotation with Jonathan Jones and Jalen Mills and has started just once this season. Jack Jones did outsnap both of his fellow Patriots corners in last week’s win over Gardner’s Jets, however, playing 83% of snaps to Mills’ 59% and Jon Jones’ 49%, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see his playing time continue to increase in the back half of the season.

The fourth-round draft pick is capable of providing the highlight-reel plays usually needed to win an award like this — he already has a pick-six, an acrobatic leaping interception and a forced fumble — and he’s an advanced stats darling, grading out as Pro Football Focus’s top cornerback through eight weeks. Jalen Ramsey is second, followed by Patrick Surtain II and Gardner.

Jones isn’t a DROTY favorite at this point, but that could quickly change if he stays on his current trajectory.

@ElliotCohen2
With the patriots not trading Damien Harris, what’s the likelihood of re-signing him? Is he in their future plans? If not, did the pats try to ship him off and not find any takers? Stevenson has looked as though he can handle the full workload.

The Patriots would have been dangerously thin at running back if they’d moved Harris ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline, so I think keeping him was the smart play. But I had to make a prediction, I’d say he signs elsewhere once he hits free agency this offseason.

It’s become increasingly clear over the last few weeks that Rhamondre Stevenson is the Patriots’ best back — even if Harris continues to start most games he plays in — and New England already took steps toward restocking its backfield for the future when it drafted Pierre Strong and Kevin Harris, neither of whom is ready contribute offensively.

Damien Harris is a very good back who deserves to be a No. 1 option somewhere, but unless something happens to Stevenson, I doubt that’ll be here. Recent NFL history also shows it’s not good business to hand out big contracts to veteran running backs, so my guess is the Patriots would rather roll with their younger, cheaper options there.

@SamuelB13989273
Injury notwithstanding, why can’t Josh Uche seem to make a real impact?
Seems like we’ve been asking that question for years, right?

The good: Uche has registered four pressures in each of his last two appearances, the first time he’s had more than two in back-to-back games in his NFL careers. He also sacked Zach Wilson late in last week’s win over the Jets. The not-so-good: That sack was Uche’s first since the last time the Patriots visited MetLife Stadium — way back in Week 2 of last season. He’d also registered a grant total of one quarterback hit and no tackles for loss during that stretch. And those two four-pressure outings bookended yet another injury, this one a hamstring issue that sidelined him for matchups with Cleveland and Chicago.

Perhaps Uche’s recent pressure pop is a sign that he’s finally turning a corner. The Patriots’ pass rush already has been helped by the Year 6 emergence of Deatrich Wise, but they still could use more secondary production there to take pressure off of Matthew Judon. At this point, the long-awaited Uche breakout might be pipedream, but he’s at least shown signs of life lately when he’s been on the field.

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