FOXBORO — It’s still too early to be clamoring for the Patriots to play the kids. They have a chance to cut into Buffalo’s lead in the division Sunday with another Bills matchup left in their nine-week push to the close of the regular season.
But the two of said “kids” could end up with more of an opportunity to show what they can do based on injuries suffered last weekend.
N’Keal Harry suffered a concussion against the Niners that knocked him from Sunday’s game early, opening up an opportunity for fellow second-year wideout Jakobi Meyers to step in. Harry was not present at Wednesday’s practice, indicating he still has to progress through the NFL’s concussion protocol before being cleared for practice and then game action in Western New York.
Meyers led the Patriots with four catches for 60 yards on six targets over the weekend, immediately showing some chemistry with quarterback Cam Newton despite not playing the previous week against the Broncos at home. Meyers has another long reception wiped out due to a holding penalty called on Joe Thuney.
Against the Bills, if Harry is out, Meyers would have a chance to compete against a secondary that has not been as strong a unit as it has been in years past. They’re 15th in the NFL in points allowed (25.4) and 14th in yards allowed per pass attempt (7.3). When it comes to passer rating allowed, they’re 23rd (99.5). When looking at overall DVOA, they’re the 21st defense in football, per Football Outsiders, and they’re 18th in pass defense DVOA.
Meanwhile on the other side of the ball, another injury could crack the door open for a rookie to slide into a real role. Linebacker Brandon Copeland was not present at Wednesday’s practice and is expected to hit injured reserve soon. He played 16 percent of Patriots defensive snaps through seven weeks and was a core special-teamer.
That absence could simply mean more work for a player like Anfernee Jennings, who started last weekend against the Niners. But rookie Josh Uche, who was designated to return off IR last week and began practicing, is an explosive athlete who would seem to better fit the role vacated by Copeland as an off-the-ball and edge-defender option.
That’s what Uche did at Michigan, and his defensive coordinator there Don Brown told The Next Pats Podcast that Uche would be a good fit for Bill Belichick’s defense because of his versatility. Uche’s movement skills should allow him to compete in the kicking game as well, though it’s difficult to nail down his role without having seen him in a game situation — preseason or regular season.
Though the Patriots may be approaching this game as the closest thing to a playoff matchup in the regular season, injuries could force their hand to some extent and allow younger players an opportunity to prove themselves in a high-leverage spot.