New England Patriots

  • The Patriots have had to play their last couple of games without a number of key players on the field. Starting quarterback Mac Jones highlights that group, but while his status remains uncertain other starters are trending in a positive direction.

    As the Patriots get ready to face the Detroit Lions this week, some of those players who have been banged up and project to return will likely be thrust into key roles in the game plan.

    Which players back in the lineup will have the most on their plates? What key injuries could prove to be turning points for Sunday’s game? Let’s dive into it with an expanded version of key matchups…


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  • When New England has the ball: Jakobi Meyers vs. Mike Hughes/Jeff Okudah

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 11: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots rushes the football in the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA – SEPTEMBER 11: Jakobi Meyers #16 of the New England Patriots rushes the football in the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 11, 2022 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)

    In the week leading up to last week’s game against the Packers, Jakobi Meyers seemed optimistic he’d be able to play after missing the week before. However, Meyers didn’t quite make it back to the field and was inactive for his second game in a row. Still, Meyers’ optimism last week is a sign he was close to getting back into game shape, making it seem likely he could be back on Sunday against the Lions.

    Assuming Meyers plays, he could be heavily involved in the Patriots’ offense if Bailey Zappe gets the start as is expected. At Western Kentucky, Zappe quarterbacked an offense that operated through the slot receiver on a very reliant basis. For example, his slot receiver with the Hilltoppers last year was Jerreth Sterns, who in 14 games caught 150 passes for 1,902 yards and 17 touchdowns.

    If the Patriots want to open things up more with Zappe while keeping him comfortable, featuring the slot receiver would make a lot of sense. Assuming he’s healthy, that would be Meyers.

    For that to work, Meyers has to get open. Mike Hughes is the Lions’ slot corner, who figures to draw most of the coverage assignments on Meyers. That matchup would be an advantage for the Patriots. So far this season, Hughes has been targeted 20 times allowing 16 catches for 240 yards. The Lions also blitz him quite a bit – 11 times in four games – which could allow Meyers some free releases.

    While that’s the matchup dictated by the depth charts, the Lions could things change up. Given Meyers’ prominence in the Patriots’ offense, Detroit could use 2020 third-overall pick Jeff Okudah on Meyers, either going with that plan from the start or adjusting into it if Meyers gives Hughes issues early in the game. Okudah was hurt for most of his first two seasons in the NFL, but has performed up to his top-three pick status to start this season. So far this season, he’s held DeVonta Smith, Terry McLaurin, and Justin Jefferson all under four catches and 25 yards each.

  • When New England has the ball: Isaiah Wynn vs. Aidan Hutchinson

    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - SEPTEMBER 18: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions plays against the Washington Commanders at Ford Field on September 18, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    DETROIT, MICHIGAN – SEPTEMBER 18: Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions plays against the Washington Commanders at Ford Field on September 18, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

    On the chance that Meyers doesn’t return this week, here’s an extra key matchup for when the Patriots have the ball.

    After getting mostly benched for the second half of last week’s game, this Sunday is a crucial game for Isaiah Wynn. With the team promoting Marcus Cannon from the practice squad, he now has direct competition on the roster for the right tackle job.

    As he tries to get back on track, he’ll be tasked with facing the second overall pick from this year’s NFL Draft, Aidan Hutchinson. The Lions have moved Hutchinson around at times this year, but he primarily lines up on the strong side edge.

    So far this season, Hutchinson has been on-and-off. His best game so far is a three sack performance against Washington in Week 2. He was quiet the week after that, but did record two QB hits against Seattle last week.

    Hutchinson is primarily a speed rusher, so it will be key for Wynn to get right out of his stance and quickly into his set on passing downs. Given Wynn has been called for three false starts in four games this year, that’s something to watch.

  • When Detroit has the ball: Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore vs. Frank Ragnow

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 25: Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots celebrates during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 25: Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux #92 of the New England Patriots celebrates during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on September 25, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The Lions aren’t just running the ball well to start the season, they’re off to a historic pace. Through four games, they’re averaging 5.9 yards per carry. There’s a ways to go, but if they can maintain that number through the end of the season it would be an NFL record. The last team to rush for at least 5.9 yards per carry for a full season was the 1948 San Francisco 49ers, who ran the ball for 6.1 yards per attempt in the All-America Football Conference, an early rival league that eventually merged with the NFL.

    When it comes to their running game, the Lions do most of their damage up the middle. They’re averaging 6.3 yards per carry on 40 carries between the guards this season.

    It will be up to the Patriots’ interior defensive linemen to slow that running game down at the point of attack. That’s mainly Davon Godchaux and Christian Barmore, who are the only two interior defensive linemen to play over 50 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this year. They’ll be dealing with Lions All-Pro center Frank Ragnow.

    Both sides of this matchup are dealing with injuries. Godchaux had been on the Patriots injury report with a back injury, but was removed this week. Meanwhile, Ragnow missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday, as he deals with a foot injury that has already cost him time this season. If Ragnow can’t go, Evan Martin is Detroit’s backup center.

  • When Detroit has the ball: Kyle Dugger vs. T. J. Hockenson

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) in the backfield during the first half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Aug 19, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots safety Kyle Dugger (23) in the backfield during the first half of a preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Once again, we’ll go with a backup matchup in case Ragnow doesn’t play. This one is a bit of a risk too though, as both players involved are banged up.

    Tight end T.J. Hockenson is an absolute weapon for the Lions offense, as evidenced by his eight-catch, 179-yard, two-touchdown performance last week against the Seahawks. With running back D’Andre Swift reportedly unlikely to play due to a shoulder injury and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown missing two days of practice this week with an ankle injury, he may end up being their only true weapon in the passing game. That’s assuming he plays – Hockenson missed practice on Wednesday with a hip injury and was limited on Thursday.

    If he is on the field, the coverage assignment likely falls to the Patriots’ top ‘tight end stopper,’ safety Kyle Dugger. Dugger has also been limited with a knee injury – he didn’t play in Week 3 and saw a reduced role last week against the Packers. Having him at full strength to help contain Hockenson would be a huge boost to a Patriots defense that has struggled to cover big tight ends (Hockenson is 6-foot-5, 248 pounds) without him in recent weeks.

  • Bonus: Matt Patricia vs. the Lions

    Jun 5, 2018, Allen Park, MI: Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia looks on as wide receiver Brandon Powell makes a catch during practice at the Lions Headquarters and Training Facility. (Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

    Jun 5, 2018, Allen Park, MI: Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia looks on as wide receiver Brandon Powell makes a catch during practice at the Lions Headquarters and Training Facility. (Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports)

    Want a matchup not predicated on an injury? Well, here you go.

    Patriots fans may not think much about Matt Patricia’s stint running the Lions, but Lions fans are still talking about it – especially this week. The Lions were 9-7 the year before Matt Patricia arrived, but finished 3-12-1 in his final season.

    On top of that, Patricia seemingly wasn’t very popular with at least some of the players in Detroit. 18 of his former players remain with the team ahead of this Sunday’s matchup.

    While it’s not the main storyline in this game, there is a bit of a grudge match element here from the Detroit side. How will that impact the game on the field, if at all? We’ll find out Sunday.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.