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The Patriots are finalizing preparations for Sunday’s contest with the Jets, releasing the final injury report and announcing roster moves on Friday.
New England announced they’ve signed quarterback Will Grier from the Bengals practice squad, placing second-year CB Marcus Jones on in-season injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Along with swapping Grier for Jones on the active roster, the team listed five players as questionable: DT Christian Barmore (knee), CB Jonathan Jones (ankle), G Mike Onwenu (ankle), G Cole Strange (knee), and OL Sidy Sow (concussion).
The positive news for the Patriots is that starting left tackle Trent Brown (concussion) and WR DeVante Parker (knee) were removed from the injury report, meaning the Pats could have their projected starting five along the offensive line active for Sunday’s game vs. the Jets for the first time this season.
After the team was shorthanded on the O-Line last week, the Patriots starting five practiced all week in at least a limited capacity. In Week 2, New England got its starting guard tandem back with Onwenu and Strange returning, but Brown missed last Sunday night’s loss to the Dolphins with a concussion. Following an injury-plagued summer and start to the season, the Patriots are finally healthy up front offensively.
Assuming their two starting guards will play again after making their season debuts last week, the offensive line should look like this: LT Trent Brown, LG Cole Strange, C David Andrews, RG Mike Onwenu, and RT Calvin Anderson. In the first two weeks, Pats running backs ranked 27th in rushing average (3.0 yards), while the offensive line ranks 25th in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric with the NFL’s worst run-blocking grade.
Although there are other factors, offensive line play is arguably the biggest reason the Patriots are in their first 0-2 hole since 2001. With the top group returning, New England can turn those metrics around. We also wouldn’t rule out the Patriots giving Vederian Lowe a shot at right tackle over Anderson. Based on last week’s performance, Lowe had better film than Anderson vs. Miami from this perspective.
Along with the big boys up front offensively, the other big question mark on the final injury report is the status of CB Jonathan Jones. Jones is officially questionable with an ankle injury that prevented him from playing against the Dolphins, and with Marcus Jones now on in-season IR, the veteran cornerback’s availability is even more critical.
The Patriots erred on the side of caution last week by playing it safe with Jones vs. Miami. Still, his remaining on the active roster suggests that his injury is not viewed as a long-term issue, giving Jones a chance to play opposite rookie Christian Gonzalez as the Pats top CB tandem.
For the Jets, New York ruled out S Tony Adams (hamstring) and OL Wes Schweitzer (concussion). But the bigger news for Gang Green is that starting LT Duane Brown (shoulder/hip), stud DE John Franklin-Myers (hip), and K Greg Zuerlein (groin) are all questionable.
With all five players listed on the final injury report having a chance to play on Sunday, here is our analysis of the Patriots roster moves on Friday:
Patriots Place CB Marcus Jones On In-Season Injured Reserve
After an impressive rookie season where he earned All-Pro honors as an elite returner, the Patriots placed second-year cornerback Marcus Jones on in-season injured reserve on Friday.
Jones reportedly suffered a torn labrum in last Sunday’s loss to Miami making a tackle on Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and will be “out of a while,” according to head coach Bill Belichick. Although every situation is different, some players return the same season, opting to delay surgery until the offseason if they can play through the injury. Jones will have to miss at least the next four games before he’s eligible to return, causing a domino effect in a few areas.
First, Jones joins fellow 2022 draft pick Jack Jones (hamstring) on the in-season injured reserve list, testing the Patritos depth at cornerback. New England has a top tandem of rookie Christian Gonzalez and veteran Jonathan Jones but is now down to versatile defensive backs Myles Bryant and Jalen Mills along with third-year CB Shaun Wade for a team that primarily plays out of a five-defensive back nickel package.
Despite his smaller stature, Marcus Jones has logged most of his snaps at outside cornerback in his first 17 career games. The 5-foot-8 speedster is a long-term fit in the slot, but injuries and a lack of boundary cornerback depth in his rookie season pushed him outside. Ultimately, Gonzalez and Jon Jones will primarily handle the outside cornerback assignments. Still, being down two of three Joneses might force Mills back to cornerback rather than his preferred position as a safety.
Mills spent most of the summer working at the various safety spots as he transitioned to more middle-of-the-field responsibilities rather than playing on the boundary. However, losing two layers of cornerback depth will likely put Mills back into the CB mix, while Bryant now becomes the top nickel corner in the slot for the Patriots defense.
The Patriots are still in decent shape as long as Gonzalez and Jonathan Jones are on the field, but both Mills and Bryant have struggled to cover speedy receivers in man coverage. Mills doesn’t necessarily have the long speed to run with vertical threats on the outside, and at the same time, Bryant has issues keeping up in foot races with explosive slot receivers.
With the third-rounder from a year ago out for the foreseeable future, hopefully, the Patriots will get Jack Jones back from a hamstring injury when he’s eligible to return off injured reserve in Week 5. This week, expect Bryant and Mills to see the field more at cornerback.
Along with losing his speed on defense, the Patriots will need to fill Jones’s shoes as a reigning first-team All-Pro punt returner. Last week, rookie WR Demario Douglas replaced Jones as the primary punt returner, making it safe to assume that Douglas will handle punts moving forward.
Douglas has fought the ball a bit as he adjusts to the height and angles that NFL punters use versus the typical Aussie-style punts in the college game, something that took Marcus Jones a few weeks to adapt to before the Patriots made him their top return man in his rookie campaign. If the rookie struggles, other options for punt return duties are Jabrill Peppers, Myles Bryant, and practice-squad receiver Jalen Reagor. For now, though, expect Douglas to be the guy.
The Patriots cornerback depth will be tested with the second-year Joneses now on injured reserve, making the immediate impact of first-rounder Christian Gonzalez even more vital.
*Patriots Sign QB Will Grier, Will Serve as Emergency Quarterback *
The Patriots have a third quarterback on the 53-man roster again, and he was wearing, you guessed it, a No. 19 jersey at practice on Friday.
New England signed quarterback Will Grier off the Bengals practice squad, taking Jones’s spot on the active 53-man roster. According to Belichick, Grier will be the third quarterback on the depth chart behind starter Mac Jones and backup Bailey Zappe. Belichick also confirmed that Grier will be active as the emergency third quarterback on Sunday.
The NFL reinstated the third quarterback rule this season, where if a team has three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, an extra QB can dress on game day without taking up a game-day roster spot. Furthermore, the Pats must carry Grier on the active roster for at least three weeks since they poached him off Cincinnati’s practice squad.
Going back to the 2019 NFL Draft, many viewed Grier as a Patriots fit due to his sound decision-making and accuracy from the pocket. This summer, Grier led the league with 640 passing yards with a 103.3 rating in the preseason before being released by the Cowboys on cutdown day.
On film, Grier is still flashing solid quarterbacking from the pocket with good eye manipulation, processing on progression reads, and timing on rhythm throws to be an effective play-action passer. Grier won’t “wow” you with arm talent or mobility, but he’s a touch passer who wins with ball placement and processing speed — a typical Patriots quarterback.
For example, Grier threw a few touchdown passes from the high red zone, showing good skill from the pocket in the preseason. The Pats new quarterback recognizes the split-safety coverage, holding the left safety with his eyes in his drop before shifting back to the shake/corner routes, putting the other deep safety in conflict. When the half-field safety sticks with the corner, Grier rips the touchdown to the shake route.
New England has continuously looked for depth at the quarterback position, claiming Matt Corral (no longer on the roster), signing Ian Book for a short stint on the practice squad, and now signing Grier. Belichick referenced needing depth to get through the season at the most important position, which could speak to the current state of the offensive line. After releasing him initially on roster cutdown day, the team could also be looking to upgrade at backup quarterback over Zappe.
The Patriots will now have three quarterbacks dressed on game day as the team travels to New Jersey on Saturday for Sunday’s showdown with the Jets in the Meadowlands.
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