By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The New England offense hasn’t been a functioning unit for the better part of a month. And now that Cam Newton will be without the team’s top two receivers this weekend against Buffalo, getting the offense back on track isn’t going to be any easier.
Newton will be without both Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry when the Patriots pay a visit to Orchard Park on Sunday. Edelman had knee surgery on Thursday, and Harry has been ruled out with a concussion that suffered in last Sunday’s loss to the 49ers.
While neither Edelman or Harry have produced like a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver, they were at least out there commanding coverage. But with both on the shelf, who the heck is Cam Newton going to underthrow now?
The options aren’t great. Here is New England’s wide receiver depth chart heading into Sunday:
Isaiah Zuber (Practice Squad)
Mason Kinsey (Practice Squad)
Kristian Wilkerson (Practice Squad)
Here is where we’ll also remind you that Matthew Slater is technically a wide receiver. But he’s more of a “Break Glass In Case Of Emergency” kind of receiver, and the Patriots aren’t there just yet. It’s close, but Slates probably won’t be seeing his first target since 2016 this weekend.
The Patriots will likely roll with Byrd, Olszewski, Meyers and Zuber as Newton’s arsenal on Sunday. Of that group, only Byrd has extended NFL experience. He actually leads all Patriots receivers in playing time this season, checking in with 18 receptions off 28 targets for 145 yards.
Meyers has caught five of the seven passes that have gone his way this season, and is coming off an impressive four-catch afternoon against the 49ers. He was in line for more playing time anyways after being one of the few bright spots in last week’s embarrassing loss, but asking him to step in as the No. 2 receiver is a little much.
Zuber has played in three games this season, catching the only pass that was sent his way. Gunner also only has one reception on the season. Overall, Sunday’s projected Patriots receiving corps has a grand total of 25 receptions this season.
Maybe tight ends Ryan Izzo, Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene will make some kind of an impact this weekend. Perhaps Cam will lean more on his pass-catching running backs Rex Burkhead (15 receptions) and James White (19 receptions). And really, the game plan will focus more on New England’s ground attack, considering Buffalo’s defense has struggled against the run this season.
But the Patriots will have to have some semblance of a passing game for the run game to work. Doing so without Edelman and Harry could prove to be difficult for a team that was struggling to do much of anything in the air with both of them on the field.
Tune in to Sunday’s Patriots-Bills matchup on WBZ-TV! Pregame coverage begins at 11:30 a.m. with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 1 p.m., and after the game stay tuned for full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!