Is there a new linebacker in Bill Belichick’s doghouse?
By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
With injuries all over the place, the Patriots personnel was bound to look different on Monday night. That, combined with coaches changes necessitated by a four-game losing streak opened up opportunities for a handful of players who had been out of the spotlight for the first half of the season.
Who made the most of the given opportunity? And who took a back seat? Before we get to that, here’s the overall snap counts from the Patriots win over the Jets:
With Sony Michel’s return on the horizon, the Patriots will have decisions to make as to how to distribute running back snaps. On Monday night, the three healthy backs each got one less chance to make their case, and they all played pretty well.
The back most likely to be impacted by Michel’s return is Damien Harris, given the two play a similar role. Based on how Harris was used on Monday night, it looks like the team sees him as a growing part of the offense. For the second time in three weeks, he was the second-most used running back, behind only Rex Burkhead.
Of course, the Patriots handle the running back position with as volatile a routine as any on their roster. But Harris received an increased workload, and delivered. Assuming he’s healthy moving forwards (he left Monday’s game late with a chest injury), his role shouldn’t diminish too much, even when Michel returns.
Discussing the Patriots “number one” wide receiver has been a contentious point this season. Should ‘number 1’ refer to their leading statistical receiver, Julian Edelman? Their traditional top of the depth chart receiver? That was N’Keal Harry before he suffered a concussion. Or is it their most used receiver, Damiere Byrd?
Well, based on what we saw last night, Jakobi Meyers is going to put that argument to bed by laying claim to all three roles. Monday night was the first time this season any Patriots receiver has seen as many or more snaps as Damiere Byrd. Meyers made the most of his snaps as well, recording 12 catches for 169 yards.
Meyers and Byrd each only played one snap, but based on the trends it looks as though Meyers could overtake the veteran soon, potentially next week versus Baltimore – especially if Harry remains out.
After seeing decreasing snaps for five straight weeks, Chase Winovich finally returned to a regular role in the Patriots’ offense. His 67-percent usage rate is his third-highest of the season.
Why was this the week Winovich returned? That’s a tough question to answer. The Jets are a run-heavy team, whereas Winovich specializes as a pass rusher. Yet the Patriots repeatedly put him out there and he played well, recording five tackles.
Of course, those snaps had to come from somewhere. Falling on the other side of Winovich’s increase in playing time were the Patriots’ two rookie linebackers, Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.
Uche played 21 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in his NFL debut last week, both as an edge rusher and middle linebacker. With Ja’Whaun Bentley out, he figured to play a bigger role in the defensive scheme. However, he ended up with just four snaps.
Instead, it was second-year UDFA Terez Hall, playing in his first NFL game, who took Bentley’s place. Hall ended up on the field for 65-percent of the team’s snaps. Hall was the team’s most-used linebacker, and played well.
As for Jennings, his seven snaps (15 percent) were actually an increase over last week, when he was only used on special teams. Still, the minimal usage is in stark contract to the previous two games, which saw him on the field 44 and 80 percent of the time.
We still don’t know why Chase Winovich’s usage dropped, but is it possible that whatever he did, Uche and/or Jennings has done (or not done) the same thing? We’ll see how they’re used next week against Baltimore, in a game where linebackers will make or break the defense.
Returning from an ankle injury that cost him two games, Kyle Dugger was used sparingly. The rookie played a season-low nine percent of the Patriots defensive snaps.
Don’t expect that to be a trend though, as Dugger has been a key part of the Patriots’ secondary this season. The team was likely being careful with him due to the injury (he was questionable coming into the game). With his promising start, hopefully he can get back to a regular role next week.
Elsewhere in the secondary, rookie UDFA Myles Bryant saw an expanded role, playing 24-percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in just his second NFL game. Bryant was one of the most talented players in the Patriots’ UDFA class this summer, and has a lot of tools the team tends to gravitate towards in defensive backs. He’s somebody who could be a part of the team’s future, so in-game evaluation in a situation like the one Monday night is valuable.
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.