By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Sunday’s loss to the Denver Broncos exposed (or re-exposed) a number of personnel holes on the Patriots roster. Some were predictable, like the struggles from the patchwork offensive line. Some were old news, like the seeming lack of urgency from the skill position players, and some were headscratchers, like how the Patriots handled the defensive front.
Let’s take a look at some of the key decisions the Patriots made personnel wise. But first, the overall snap counts from the game:
Writing about the wide receiver usage each week is starting to feel like Groundhog Day. Damiere Byrd saw a lot of snaps, but few targets. Julian Edelman got fewer snaps, but plenty of targets. N’Keal Harry was stuck somewhere in between. They tried one or two gadget plays with Isaiah Zuber early in the game, and that was all we saw from him.
At some point, they need to try shaking things up. The current rotation at receiver isn’t working, especially when Julian Edelman is as un-explosive as he was against Denver.
Maybe the solution is Jakobi Meyers, who didn’t see a single snap in the game after being inactive last week, or Gunner Olszewski, who after an outstanding training camp has been limited to mostly special teams in 2020. Perhaps the answer lies on the practice squad, either in a full-time promotion and bigger role for Zuber, or another camp standout in Devin Ross. Of course there are always external options, but the trade deadline is approaching fast and free agency is complicated this year due to COVID-19.
After the Patriots-Chiefs game where he barely saw the field, I wrote that Devin Asiasi was due for a usage boost next time out.
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.
So it turns out this was half-right. Asiasi saw a major bump in playing time against the Broncos, when he was on the field for a season-high 42-percent of the Patriots snaps. However, he didn’t see a single target in his 24 downs played. He was open too, although it was mostly in the flat when the Patriots were trying to drive the ball down the field.
Asiasi’s best route in college was running straight up the seam, something that the Patriots usually ask of their tight ends. Through five games though they haven’t given the rookie that chance. The best explanation so far has been that without a preseason, they’re worried he’s not yet ready for the NFL game, but almost halfway through the season that has to change. Unfortunately, next week would be a tough time to start feeding him the ball – San Francisco’s defense has been one of the best in the league at covering tight ends this season.
In one of the more curious coaching decisions made yesterday, Chase Winovich seemed to take a backseat in the game plan. The second-year edge rusher had been dominant before the bye, recording a sack in three straight games. On Sunday, he played a season-low 34-percent of the Patriots’ defensive downs. It was the first time this season he was on the field less than half of the time.
In his place, the Patriots went with more traditional outside linebackers to counter the Broncos rushing attack. Rookie Anfernee Jennings was on the field often early in the game, and played a career-high 28 snaps. But the real beneficiary was Shilique Calhoun, who was in the game almost wire-to-wire. His 54 snaps were a season high, and his 84-percent usage rate was far and away the most by any Patriots linebacker besides Ja’Whaun Bentley this season (the previous high was 53-percent by Calhoun in Week 1).
With a run-first team in San Francisco coming to Gillette on Sunday, it’s possible we see a similar strategy again. On the other hand, if the Patriots can force the Niners into more third and long and/or obvious passing situations, it will create more opportunities to put Winovich on the edge and let him loose after the quarterback.
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 Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.