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Previewing the Jets’ opposition: New England Patriots

New England Patriots Vs. Buffalo Bills At Bills Stadium Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Patriots are in an adjustment phase at the moment. Key personnel losses, Covid opt-outs and in-season injuries have decimated their roster after they almost started 3-0 with two impressive wins and a last-gasp loss to Seattle. They’ve now lost four in a row with two close games and two losses to last year’s Super Bowl competitors. Can they stem the tide against the Jets?

Quarterbacks

Stepping into Tom Brady’s shoes was never going to be easy but Cam Newton is finding things particularly hard over the past few weeks. This came to a head when was benched in a blowout loss to the 49ers two weeks ago. He bounced back somewhat against the Bills last week, only for his late game fumble to ice the win for Buffalo.

For the season as a whole, Newton has seven interceptions and only two touchdown passes, although he is leading New England in rushing and has a team-high six touchdowns on the ground.

Brian Hoyer started one game in place of Newton but was himself benched for Jarrett Stidham, who seems to have supplanted Hoyer as the number two. He’s completed less than 50 percent of his passes, though, with three interceptions including a pick-six to Tyrann Mathieu.

Offensive Line

The offensive line is the first of multiple positions to be affected by opt-outs. Veteran right tackle Marcus Cannon opted out before camp, although his replacement Mike Onwenu - a sixth-round rookie - has been solid in his place.

After some injuries, former first round pick Isaiah Wynn has finally enjoyed an extended spell as the starter at left tackle. However, he’s struggling with an ankle injury and missed practice time during the week.

The interior has a familiar look to it with Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason at guard and David Andrews at center. Thuney also filled in at center for a few games when Andrews was out. On the whole, the line has held up well, giving up just 15 sacks. No lineman has more than two penalties or two sacks surrendered.

The bench has taken a hit with Jermaine Eluemenor and rookie Justin Herron now on injured reserve having received some playing time earlier in the season.

Korey Cunningham, Hjalte Froholdt and James Ferentz fill out the bench. All three have only seen brief action so far this year.

Running Backs

The Patriots’ leading rusher from 2019 was Sony Michel, who had over 900 yards. However, he’s been on injured reserve and has only just been activated to practice. Some reports indicated he was expected to play on Monday night though.

With Michel out, Rex Burkhead had been starting until week four but then Damien Harris returned from a broken finger and has had two 100-yard games in four appearances as the lead back. Harris, a 2019 third round pick, didn’t play much as a rookie.

James White is the third down back but he only has 21 catches so far this season. Last year, he had 72 receptions and five touchdown catches.

Jakob Johnson is the team’s fullback and undrafted rookie JJ Taylor has also seen action at halfback from time to time, although he’s been ruled out for Monday night.

Pass catchers

New England’s pass catchers have also been affected by opt-outs with starting tight end Matt LaCosse and veteran receiver Marqise Lee having opted opt. Last year’s leading receiver Julian Edelman is also on injured reserve, compounding matters.

The Patriots were hoping former first round pick N’Keal Harry would step up in 2020 following an underwhelming rookie year. After catching eight passes in the Seattle game, his production has slipped and he has just one catch since week four. Harry is now dealing with a concussion and has been ruled out for Monday night.

Of the players who are available, Damiere Byrd is tied for the team lead in receptions but Jakobi Myers has just 11 catches. The Patriots just traded a conditional pick for Isaiah Ford to bolster their ranks.

Gunner Olszewski and Matthew Slater are available as cover but are mainly on the team for their special teams contributions.

Ryan Izzo is the starter at tight end but he has just nine catches so it’s a far cry from the Rob Gronkowski era. Backing him up are two third round rookies, Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi, but Asiasi just went onto injured reserve. Despite being the only healthy backup, Keene did not make the trip to New York, although the Patriots continue to list him as questionable.

Defensive Line

The interior of the Patriots’ defensive line is led by veteran Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, who had six sacks last season. Guy was ruled out late on Sunday though. Byron Cowart is also listed as a starter and New England just poached Carl Davis from Jacksonville’s practice squad to add to their ranks.

With Beau Allen having been placed on injured reserve before the opener, Nick Thurman and Isaiah Mack round out the rotation.

On the edge, Chase Winovich is New England’s most productive pass rusher with a team-high 2.5 sacks. The other starter is Deatrich Wise who has been solid against the run and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.

John Simon and Shilique Calhoun play a more versatile role with some reps off the ball, while Derek Rivers plays sporadically in a reserve role. Simon has struggled this season and Calhoun is listed as questionable with a knee injury.

Linebackers

The Patriots’ linebacker ranks have been decimated with Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts all departing during the offseason and Donta’ Hightower having opted out before the season.

Ja’Whaun Bentley is basically all that’s left from this group over the past few years and he’s often been the only inside linebacker on the field with New England playing a lot of defensive back-heavy sets. Not surprisingly, his grades have suffered as the defensive line has struggled to keep him clean. He’s another player that has been ruled out for Monday’s game despite previously being listed as questionable.

With ex-Jet Brandon Copeland now on injured reserve, the rest of the linebacker rotation is comprised of 2020 draft picks with second-rounder Josh Uche, third-rounder Anfernee Jennings and sixth-rounder Cassh Maluia. Of the three, Jennings has seen the most playing time. With Bentley, one or more of the rookies will have to step up or New England will have to get really creative.

Defensive Backs

Stephon Gilmore is coming off an all-pro season but his play has suffered this season and there was even some talk that he might be traded. He’s been struggling with a knee injury this week and the Patriots ruled him out for Monday night’s game late on Sunday.

Jason McCourty and JC Jackson both get plenty of reps on the outside anyway. Jackson had five interceptions last year and already has four this season.

Their main slot cornerback is Jonathan Jones, who is second on the team with five passes defensed.

Youngster Joejuan Williams and undrafted rookie Myles Bryant are also available, but neither has played much this year.

With previous starter Patrick Chung being another player who opted out, New England brought in veteran Adrian Phillips to start at safety and he’s leading the team in tackles.

Devin McCourty is the other starting safety with ex-Jet Terrence Brooks and second round rookie Kyle Dugger also seeing action in three safety sets. Reserves Justin Bethel and Cody Davis have just been special teamers so far.

Special Teams

Another ex-Jets does the kicking for New England. Nick Folk has missed just three kicks all season. Folk doesn’t kick off, though. Punter Jake Bailey has that role.

Bailey has only given up 17 punt return yards all season and a big part of that is the Patriots’ two outstanding gunners, Bethel and Slater. Simon, Burkhead and Cody Davis are also contributors in kick coverage.

Folk missed practice on Saturday with a back injury so it’s possible New England will activate rookie Justin Rohrwasser off the practice squad to make his debut.

In the return game, Brandon Bolden was the kickoff returner last year, but he opted out so Olszewski now handles that role in addition to his role as the punt returner. Byrd and Taylor back him up.