By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Winovich has seen his playing time plummet on defense in recent weeks, while playing more on special teams. It feels like some sort of punishment. But two Belichicks – both Bill and outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick – have offered something closer to a vote of confidence in the 25-year-old.
Asked by Evan Lazar of CLNS Media whether Winovich had done anything egregious to see his playing time reduced so dramatically, Steve Belichick replied “No, definitely not.” He added “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
That will soften any concerns being held that Winovich was in the proverbial doghouse with Bill. The head coach said in Monday’s video conference that Winovich’s reduced role has “just been situational. He’ll play. He’s a good player. He’ll play.” He had a reassuring tone in his voice.
Winovich averaged 39.5 defensive snaps over the first four weeks of the season, during which he compiled 2.5 sacks, six QB hits, 14 total tackles, and a forced fumble. But his snaps have decreased in each of the past three weeks from 22, to 13, to just five against the Bills on Sunday.
There was a clear schematic explanation for why Winovich played way less than he did at the start of the season. The Patriots focused more on stopping the run against the Broncos, 49ers, and Bills, and Winovich is clearly a much better pass-rusher than run defender at this stage of his career. He has upside as a true three-down player on the defensive line, but he’s not there yet. He also has things to work on in terms of edge-setting and keeping contain against mobile quarterbacks.
Still, five snaps against the Bills? When they’re gashing you up and down the field? It was curious to see Winovich, one of the team’s few bright spots in the front-seven, practically get benched in such an important game. It led to theories that he might be in trouble over his interviews with 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Zolak & Bertrand, where he’s talked about things ranging from aliens to JFK conspiracy theories to Halloween candy.
But the comments from the coaching staff in the wake of the loss suggest that it’s simply a matter of fit in the gameplan and development of a young, imperfect player. The hope is that Winovich corrects or improves whatever is keeping him off the field from a football standpoint, and quickly. If the Patriots are going to turn their season around, they’re going to need Winovich to be a major factor in that.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.