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HOUSTON, TEXAS - NOVEMBER 22: Damien Harris #37 of the New England Patriots carries the ball for a touchdown in the first quarter during their game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on November 22, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Bill Belichick was eventually forced to abandon the run game as the Patriots fell behind by multiple scores to the Texans on Sunday. But the Patriots’ offensive snap counts illustrate what turned out to be an over-reliance on passing, as they turned away from Damien Harris and a humming ground attack a little too soon.

The key sequence in the Patriots’ 27-20 loss was mostly in the second quarter, long after they got off to a perfect start with a defensive stop and early touchdown. Deshaun Watson and the Texans answered to make it 7-7, and that’s when the Patriots curiously stopped running.

Harris made five carries for 24 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots’ first scoring drive of the game, and it looked like the run could again be a major factor in the Pats moving the ball. But on their second possession, after Harris made two carries for 11 yards and a fresh set of downs, the Patriots called three straight passes. The first two were incomplete (one was a near-interception), and the third came up short of the line to gain.

It got more curious on the third possession. Harris took the field for only two of 10 snaps, while Rex Burkhead played six and James White two. The Patriots called five runs and five passes, including three straight throws to end the drive. New England had to settle for a field goal.

Damien Harris had one of the most curiously low snap counts in the Patriots' loss to the Texans. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Damien Harris had one of the most curiously low snap counts in the Patriots’ loss to the Texans. (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The Texans then scored 14 unanswered points, and the Patriots simply had to start passing more to get back in the game. But why the quick hook on Harris?

Despite the obvious need for big plays through the air down multiple scores, it was fair to wonder why the Patriots abandoned the run game in the first half. Harris entered the game working through both ankle and chest injuries, but Belichick denied that those were related to Harris’ workload.

“Well, I think that Houston, the Texans [defense] made some adjustments in the running game and I think we had some good opportunities in the passing game, which we took advantage of,” Belichick said. “We threw the ball pretty well. So I think that’s – we were able to move the ball. That really wasn’t the issue. We had, some penalties stopped us and then we had some missed opportunities when we moved it across the 50 or into the scoring zone.”

The issue wasn’t that the Patriots never moved the ball through the air. It was that they faltered in the key situations illustrated above. The game was essentially lost in that timeframe. Had they stuck to the run game for another drive or two, perhaps the entire flow of the game is altered. But there’s no way to know now.

Patriots Offensive Snap Counts vs Texans

Here’s how the snaps broke down for the Patriots’ running backs, receivers, and tight ends against the Texans on Sunday…

Jakobi Meyers: 68
Damiere Byrd: 62
Ryan Izzo: 55
N’Keal Harry: 52
James White: 38
Damien Harris: 25
Jakob Johnson: 18
Rex Burkhead: 13
Jordan Thomas: 6
Donte Moncrief: 3

Once again, Meyers played every snap as the Patriots’ lead weapon on offense. Byrd made the most of his touches, though, getting the ball seven times and totaling 143 yards with a touchdown. Ironically, Harris led the Patriots in touches with 12, 11 carries and one catch. Seven of them came on the Pats’ first two possessions.

Ryan Izzo continues to be a black hole of production at the tight end position. The Patriots don’t have anything else to work with other than Jordan Thomas, who just signed here, and Izzo has been available so he gets most of the snaps. But two catches for 59 yards, the bulk of which came on a meaningless Hail Mary catch that was well short of the end zone, is not nearly enough for a player who plays as much as he does.

MORE: Patriots fear RB Rex Burkhead tore ACL

It’s not necessarily Izzo’s fault, though, that the Patriots have to depend on him to play so much.

N’Keal Harry had an up-and-down afternoon over the course of his 52 snaps. He finally made some plays as a receiver, hauling in five of eight targets for 41 yards. But he also committed two penalties, one for holding and another for pass interference, that stalled two drives. One of them ended in a punt and the other a field goal.

Personnel Packages

The Patriots' offensive snap counts against the Texans illustrate how heavily they leaned on the passing game. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Patriots’ offensive snap counts against the Texans illustrate how heavily they leaned on the passing game. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Once again, the Patriots shrunk their number of personnel packages in this game. They ran much more “11” personnel (one RB, one TE, three WRs) than “21” or “20”, which was partly a product of being forced to throw in the second half. Here’s how the snap counts broke down:

11 personnel: 42 (61.8 percent)
21 personnel: 19 (27.9 percent)
20 personnel: 7 (10.3 percent)

Running & Passing:

11 personnel: 66.7 percent passes (28-of-42)
21 personnel: 63.2 percent runs (12-of-19)
20 personnel: 100 percent passes (7-of-7)

The Patriots tried passing on seven plays out of “21” personnel (two RBs, one TE, two WRs), an approach that worked well against the Ravens. But on Sunday in Houston, Cam Newton went just 3-for-7 for 47 yards out of those groupings, a 65.8 passer rating.

MORE: Patriots-Texans Ups & Downs

Next look at the Patriots’ offensive snap counts will come next Sunday, Nov. 29, after the Patriots take on the Arizona Cardinals at Gillette Stadium.

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 matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.