Just a day after placing James Ferentz on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the New England Patriots just suffered another brutal COVID-19 setback. With three more players heading to the list, Bill Belichick faces another challenge brought on by the coronavirus. Can New England overcome its latest personnel losses in order to move to 3-2?
The Patriots have been hit hard by COVID-19
COVID-19 continues to be a major theme of the Patriots’ 2020 season. First, Bill Belichick had to overcome the loss of a league-high eight players to the COVID-19 opt-out policy. With Dont’a Hightower, Pat Chung, Marcus Cannon, and Brandon Bolden electing not to play this year, that forced the Patriots to dig deeper down the depth chart to find new starters.
However, after getting off to a 2-1 start, New England suffered a massive blow when Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19. His absence resulted in Brian Hoyer drawing the start against the Kansas City Chiefs. The veteran journeyman failed to manage the game properly, and the Patriots lost 26-10.
Days later, Stephon Gilmore also tested positive for COVID-19. As a result, the NFL postponed the Patriots-Broncos game until this Sunday.
On Friday, New England had another player test positive. Center James Ferentz got placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. His absence will test the team’s depth along the offensive line.
New England suffers another brutal COVID-19 setback
After losing one player to COVID-19 on Friday, the Patriots lost three more on Saturday. ESPN’s Field Yates reported via Twitter that New England will place Sony Michel, Shaq Mason, and Derek Rivers on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Once again, the Patriots have to reshuffle their roster and find replacements at key spots.
While Michel is already on injured reserve, losing Mason hurts quite a bit. The highly-paid right guard generates significant movement in the run game and makes use of his elite athleticism blocking in space. The 27-year-old missed the Chiefs game due to a calf injury and will obviously not suit up on Sunday.
Rivers has finally started to showcase some of the ability that made him a third-round pick in 2017. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound defensive end has totaled 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits on 50 defensive snaps. A defense that has already experienced a ton of turnover will now have to find another contributor up front.
The Patriots’ roster depth will be put to the test once again
While losing Rivers hurts New England’s defensive line depth, not having Mason available is far more troublesome. When healthy, he ranks as one of the top guards in the NFL. And given the Patriots’ injury issues along the offensive line, his absence adds another challenge for Bill Belichick as he prepares his team to take on the Broncos.
New England has been forced to start multiple players at center due to David Andrews’ broken thumb. In Week 3, Joe Thuney moved from his usual left guard spot and performed well at the pivot position. Against the Chiefs, Ferentz drew the start and played every offensive snap.
Now that Ferentz is on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the Patriots will likely have to slide Thuney back over to center this week. Sixth-round rookie Michael Onwenu has far outplayed his draft status and should start at one of the two guard spots. However, finding another starting guard isn’t as easy.
At this point, Bill Belichick may have no choice but to throw Hjalte Froholdt in the fire. The 2019 fourth-round pick didn’t play a single down as a rookie. Despite the team’s injury issues, he still hasn’t played a single snap on offense.
Given his draft status, Froholdt needs to step up immediately. If he fails to rise to the occasion, it won’t bode well for his future in New England.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.