Patriots flip depth chart in loss to 49ers
By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Whatever buttons Bill Belichick tried to press in Sunday’s loss to San Francisco, none of them seemed to work. From changing the offensive pattern to full-on personnel switches, the team stayed stagnant for the full 60 minutes.
Let’s take a look at some of the changes Belichick made, and if they helped or hurt the team. First, here’s the overview of the Patriots’ snap counts from yesterday*:
Although they weren’t in much of a position to run given the deficit, the distribution of the backs still stands out. Through five games, the Patriots used a very balanced approach when it came to juggling to their running backs, often with exact splits.
That was true for two of the Patriots’ backs on Sunday, with Rex Burkhead (48-percent usage) and Damien Harris (40-percent) playing similar roles. However, James White (20-percent) was seemingly absent from the game plan.
Perhaps this is because White didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday (not injury related), but it was odd to see the team’s best pass-catching back not on the field is obvious passing situations.
After weeks of building up to it, the Patriots finally made a switch at tight end – although with a twist. Devin Asiasi had steadily been building more-and-more play time, with the trend indicating Sunday would be when he would take over the TE1 role from Ryan Izzo.
However, Asiasi was marked as inactive before the game. A setback? As it turned out, no. Dalton Keene stepped right in playing 24 snaps (46 percent) in his NFL debut – one more snap than Izzo. He also recorded his first career catch, the first catch by a tight end other than Izzo this year.
Even on the plays where he wasn’t targeted, Keene showed some promise. We’ll see if he gets a bigger role going forwards.
This is where things got odd. Let’s start with Chase Winovich, who played just 13 downs (20-percent) on Sunday. It looked like Winovich was benched after a personal foul call/Jimmy Garoppolo flop. But the reality is, that’s two weeks in a row the Patriots have kept their best pass rusher on the sideline. Not ideal.
He was replaced mostly by Anfernee Jennings, who continues to look good as his usage increases. However, the team also gave a sizable role to Tashawn Bower, who was brought up from the practice squad on Saturday. Bower played 27 snaps (41 percent) are the most he’s ever played in an NFL game. It was also his first NFL action since November 2018 when he was with the Minnesota Vikings.
Starting defensive tackle Adam Butler also played a limited role, with 13 snaps. Butler has made marked improvements against the run this year, and figured to be a part of the game plan against a run-heavy team.
Instead, the team leaned heavily on Byron Cowart (42 snaps) to line up next to Lawrence guy. Nick Thurman, who was promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, was also used more than Butler (23 snaps).
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.