By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Patriots' offensive snap counts in Buffalo were mainly a reflection of a lack of options at the tight end position.
With only Ryan Izzo active at TE, the Pats played the third-year pro for 49 offensive snaps out of 65 (including a two-point conversion and one pass play negated by a penalty, and excluding pre-snap penalties). The Patriots preserved Izzo in the form of a season-high snap count in "20" personnel (the "0" indicating zero tight ends), and spelled him for one play with tackle Korey Cunningham playing in-line TE.
While the Patriots only played 16 snaps without a tight end, it was striking to see them emphasize multi-back sets, and continue to use three receivers despite injuries at the top of the depth chart. The result is yet another game with exceptionally high snap counts for Patriots receivers Damiere Byrd and Jakobi Meyers, their top-2 by default.
Patriots Snap Counts vs Bills: Offense
Here's how the Patriots' snap counts broke down on offense for players in skill positions:
Damiere Byrd: 65 snaps
Jakobi Meyers: 65 snaps
Ryan Izzo: 49 snaps
Gunner Olszewski: 41 snaps
Rex Burkhead: 32 snaps
James White: 31 snaps
Damien Harris: 20 snaps
Jakob Johnson: 17 snaps
Isaiah Zuber: 5 snaps
Korey Cunningham: 1 snap
As you can see above, the Patriots split their running back snaps fairly evenly. But they rarely mixed up the pairings when using two. They went with White and Burkhead for 18 snaps and Harris and Johnson for 15 snaps. Burkhead and Johnson worked together for one play.
The Patriots' big winner in terms of snap counts was Meyers, who had a career-high 65 offensive plays and cashed in with six catches for 58 yards. Meyers played more snaps on Sunday than he did in the first seven weeks combined (63).
Here's a full breakdown of the Patriots' offensive personnel packages against the Bills on Sunday. They only utilized three groupings: "11" personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers), "21" personnel (two RBs, one TE, two WRs), and "20" personnel (two RBs, three WRs).
11 personnel: 31 snaps (47.7 percent)
21 personnel: 18 snaps (27.7 percent)
20 personnel: 16 snaps (24.6 percent)
Running & Passing
11 personnel: 61.3 percent passing (19-of-31)
21 personnel: 88.9 percent running (16-of-18)
20 personnel: 68.9 percent passing (11-of-16)
The Patriots weren't terribly unpredictable with their personnel packages, which is somewhat a reflection of a lack of depth and talent at the skill positions. But they were able to run five running plays out of "20" personnel, four of which were keepers by Cam Newton. The other was a big third-down conversion by Rex Burkhead that helped set up Damien Harris' first career touchdown.
Although the Pats almost always ran the ball with Harris out of 21 personnel (14 of 18 snaps), the execution was effective. The offensive line did a good job opening running lanes and Harris showed a little extra burst while making guys miss, resulting in 102 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
It'll be interesting to see if the Patriots start to run more two-back sets and 20 personnel moving forward. They certainly don't want to play a lot of snaps with zero tight ends and Sunday's plan was mainly out of necessity. But running back is also the only skill position that's not hurting for depth and the group boasts the most versatility on the offense.
This all means little if Cam Newton can't start protecting the football. And at 2-5, the Patriots' playoff hopes are all but dashed anyway. But we'll keep tracking the offensive snap counts and personnel packages, with the next one coming next Tuesday after the Patriots play the Jets on Monday Night Football.
Matt Dolloff is a 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. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at [email protected].