Four Patriots who should play bigger roles vs. Bills in Week 7

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Even the most optimistic Patriots fans had to come to the conclusion that the 2023 season was effectively over following winnable Week 5 and 6 losses to the Saints and Raiders.

Next on their schedule, the Patriots have the Bills at home followed by the Dolphins on the road, meaning the team is likely facing a 1-7 start to the season.

Head coach Bill Belichick might as well try something new at the one-third mark of the season. Here are four players we want to see play major roles in a tough matchup against the Bills.

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Patriots need to find Demario Douglas more snaps coming off of injury

QB/WR Malik Cunningham

There’s really no other way to describe what the Patriots did with Cunningham last week other than weird.

To recap: The Patriots signed him off of their practice squad Saturday and made him the only active quarterback behind Mac Jones. Cunningham loosened up his arm in the halls of Allegiant Stadium to keep his role “low-key” from the Raiders and only lined up at wide receiver during pregame warmups. Then he played six total snaps with three of them coming at quarterback. Oh, and during the week, he didn’t exclusively practice at quarterback. He also received reps at wide receiver and on special teams.

The Patriots don’t need to go all-in on the Cunningham experiment, but they might as well give him more than three snaps at quarterback in Week 7. The team believes he can add some upside with his athleticism. Let him show it with option runs and gadget plays.

Get creative. Be interesting.

WR Demario Douglas

If Douglas isn’t the Patriots’ best wide receiver, then he’s No. 2 behind Kendrick Bourne right now. The sixth-round rookie missed Week 6 with a concussion. Now that he’s back on the practice field, the team should see what the offense looks like with Douglas as their every-down slot receiver.

The Liberty product is only 5-foot-8, but he can beat man coverage and make plays with the ball in his hands thanks to his top-tier agility.

Whether it’s Jones, Cunningham, Bailey Zappe or Will Grier at quarterback, Douglas can provide a useful weapon for the Patriots’ quarterback moving forward.

A new right tackle

We’ve seen enough of Vederian Lowe, right?

He’s started the last five games, the first at left tackle and the rest at right tackle. In that span of time, he ranks 62nd of 64 qualified tackles in overall PFF grade, 45th in run blocking grade and dead last in pass blocking grade. He’s allowed the most pressures and has the second-lowest pass-block efficiency rate.

Riley Reiff, Conor McDermott and Sidy Sow have yet to get a shot at right tackle. Calvin Anderson could be moved back there after an ineffective first two weeks of the season. Or Mike Onwenu could shift to right tackle with Sow taking his place at right guard.

Try anything else. Lowe could still be a future starter. He’s young. But he’s not cutting it right now.

CB J.C. Jackson

This isn’t so much about a bigger role but more about making a greater impact. Jackson played all but three snaps in his second game back with the Patriots. He covered Raiders top wide receiver Davante Adams well and let up just one 6-yard catch on six targets.

It’s been a strong start to Jackson’s return to New England. But the team desperately needs more takeaways, and Jackson was one of the best ballhawks in the NFL in his previous tenure with the Patriots.

It’s only been two games, but Jackson doesn’t have any interceptions or pass breakups with the Patriots so far this season.

It still hurts to be without Christian Gonzalez, but cornerback Jack Jones returned to practice this week after beginning the season on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment.

A cornerback group featuring Jackson, Jones and Jonathan Jones as its starters is pretty solid. Myles Bryant then could be used in a versatile role as a slot cornerback and safety.

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