By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Monday night presented the opportunity for personnel shifts for the Patriots. With a handful of players coming off and going on IR before the game, plus a unique opponent in the Kansas City Chiefs, packages were bound to look different.
From a patchwork offensive line (that played exceptionally well) to a practically non-existent defensive front (that was still effective), let’s take a look at the Patriots’ player management from Monday night.
First, the overall snap count numbers:
Monday night saw James White (bereavement leave) and Damien Harris (IR/thumb) return to the Patriots lineup. That, combined with the loss of Sony Michel (IR/quad) shook things up at the running back position.
White saw the bulk of the workload, with 40 snaps (53 percent) in his return. Rex Burkhead, who had been filling both White’s role and his own for the last two weeks, saw a drop in his usage. After playing 46-percent of the downs last week, he was in for just 35 percent against Kansas City.
Damien Harris got the least usage of the three backs, but was impactful when he was on the field. 17 of his 23 snaps saw him handed the football.
Rookie UDFA J.J. Taylor, who has been a fan-favorite early in the season, didn’t see the field. It’s not surprising to see his role cut back with Harris and White returning, but it’s rare to see a Patriots skill position player with a DNP. However, the Patriots have a history of being very conservative with rookie running backs under Bill Belichick, and now that they’re getting guys back, perhaps Taylor goes on the back burner again.
The top of the Patriots wide receiver depth chart remained more or less the same as it looked through three weeks. Further down though, there were major shakeups.
Gunner Olszewski’s return from IR was highly anticipated. Although he wasn’t on the field much (six snaps), he stood out with an impressive tip drill catch and strong block on a late Rex Burkhead run. The light workload likely is due to an ‘easing in process’ for the second-year receiver. Expect him to be slightly more involved next week against Denver, then really ramp up after the bye.
It’s not overly surprising that Olszewski would end up ahead of Jakobi Meyers on the depth chart upon his return. What was a bit shocking though, was to see Meyers inactivated for practice squad UDFA Isaiah Zuber. The Patriots made Zuber a temporary roster elevation for the second straight week. Although he only got the ball once (an eight-yard double reverse), it’s looking like the Patriots have hopes and plans for him.
After seeing a sizable increase in usage in Week 3, rookie tight end Devin Asiasi once again took a back seat. The third round pick was the second-least used offensive player for the Patriots, logging just eight snaps. By comparison, he played 29 last week.
Of course, Asiasi’s dip in playing time coincided with an increase is Izzo’s usage. The third-year tight end went from playing 62 percent of the offensive downs last week to 85 percent against Kansas City.
The switch doesn’t necessarily mean a setback for Asiasi. Even before losing Cam Newton, it was clear the Patriots were going to need to be run-heavy against the Chiefs, and Izzo is the superior blocker. Strategically, it made more sense to have him on the field Monday night. We’ll see if things turn back in Asiasi’s favor next week against a Broncos team that hasn’t been great at defending tight ends this season.
The Patriots decided to fight fire with fire Monday night, countering the Chiefs speed on offense with DB-heavy formations. Through three games, the Patriots had been very varied in their defensive personnel, with no more than two players playing every snap in a game.
That approach changed Monday night, with four defensive backs not leaving the field for New England. Devin McCourty, Stephon Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jonathan Jones all played 56 snaps – wire to wire – for the Patriots defense. On top of that, Adrian Phillips (42 snaps, 75 percent) and Jason McCourty (35 snaps, 62 percent) were on the field more than they have been, and more often than not during the game.
With another impressive performance against Kansas City in the books, it’s clear Bill Belichick has found the blueprint to contain Patrick Mahomes. They key? It has to be the talent, depth, and versatility of the Patriots secondary, all of which was on display Monday night.