New England Patriots

  • Traditionally, the Patriots like to rotate their defensive linemen over the course of a game. For instance, Davon Godchaux led all Patriots defensive linemen last season playing 59.2 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That may not sound like much, but it was the highest usage rate by a Patriots defensive lineman since Trey Flowers in 2018. In the last 10 seasons, Flowers, Chandler Jones, and Vince Wilfork are the only Patriots defensive linemen to play more than 70 percent of the team’s snaps over the course of a full season.

    Why this impromptu history lesson? Because through two weeks, it looks like the Patriots may be looking to break that trend.

    Deatrich Wise has been an absolute workhorse for the team so far. After playing 52 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season with a game-high usage rate of 69 percent, and a full-season career-high usage rate of 56 percent in 2020, Wise has played an eye-popping 86.5 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps this season.


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  • That kind of defensive lineman usage is rare not just for the Patriots, but the NFL as a whole. For context, Wise has the eighth-highest usage rate among all defensive linemen in the NFL through two weeks. He’s been more involved than players like Myles Garrett, Jonathan Allen, Brian Burns, and Nick Bosa.

    In Week 2 alone, Wise played 90 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps, which were the second-most by any player behind only Devin McCourty, who never came off the field. League-wide, only All-Pro Maxx Crosby and Pro Bowler Trey Hendrickson played more, with Wise’s usage rate tied with Aaron Donald and Chandler Jones.

    “I kind of wasn’t really thinking about how many plays I was getting,” Wise told reporters on Monday when asked about his increased role. “I was kind of just listening to the next call that was at hand and ran into what I saw on the offense.”

    Wise has made the most of his expanded role too. PFF has him as the Patriots highest-graded player through two games, and league-wide he’s the seventh-highest graded edge defender.

  • It may have slipped under the radar for some, but the Patriots have actually shown tremendous belief in Wise and his development, and telegraphing an expanded role for him for a few years now. Drafted in the fourth round in 2017, Wise was mainly a situational pass rusher for the team over the duration of his four-year rookie contract.

    That deal expired after the 2020 season, and the Patriots made what some considered a surprise move by re-signing him to a four-year, $22 million contract. That deal made Wise the 13th-highest paid player on the team in terms of cap hit. He was then voted a team captain at the start of this season.

    So what has clicked for Wise this year that’s led to him earning and (so far) succeeding in a bigger role. He says his process hasn’t changed.

    “I haven’t adjusted anything that I hadn’t already been doing,” the 28-year-old told reporters on Monday. “I feel like – like my father always wants me to do and told me when I was a kid – to work super hard at what you do and improve daily. Always keep chipping away at certain things. Improve your weaknesses and build on your strengths. I feel like that’s something that I do constantly. It just so happens to be that I’m out there on the field. And I guess every time they call my name, I’m ready to play.”

    Wise went on to say that if he had to pick an area of his game that has improved, “I would say consistency. That’s one thing that I’ve always worked on diligently. Making sure that I’m consistent in the areas I need to improve on, and consistent in the areas that they think I’m really good at or I believe that I’m also good at. So just showing up every day, doing the same things, working hard.”

    Part of what makes this pace so incredible is how hard it is to maintain at such a physically demanding position. The deeper into the season we get, the more impressive this pace will look if he can maintain it.

    It will be interesting to see if Wise’s role stays the same next week, when the Patriots welcome the Baltimore Ravens to Gillette Stadium. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has started the season on a potential MVP pace, and his rushing ability forces teams to create unique game plans defensively, especially up front.

    When the Patriots shut Jackson down during their last matchup with Baltimore in 2020, Wise played 41 percent of the defensive snaps – one of his lowest usage rates of the year. Will he be taken off the field to get more speed in the lineup? Or will his more well-rounded game see him continue to be a big part of the game plan?

    Wise wasn’t the only player who’s usage stood out on Sunday. Here’s a few other observations…

  • Running back duo flips

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots runs the ball during the second half in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Rhamondre Stevenson #38 of the New England Patriots runs the ball during the second half in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    This week saw a flip in usage at the running back position. In Week 1, Damien Harris was the featured back playing 39 percent of the team’s offensive snaps. Ty Montgomery was right behind him at 37 percent, with Rhamondre Stevenson playing a noticeably reduced role at 25 percent.

    With Montgomery now on IR, there were questions about how the workload would be divided against the Steelers, and if a third back would get involved. The Patriots mainly stuck with their top two, but it was Stevenson getting the call more often than not with a 62 percent usage rate. Harris played 40 percent of the snaps, while rookie Pierre Strong came in at just four percent, playing three snaps.

    At least early on, it doesn’t seem like the Patriots are going to replace Montgomery as the passing-down back, AKA the ‘James White role.’ Instead it appears that Harris and Stevenson, who were both involved in the passing game on Sunday, will absorb the responsibilities. How those responsibilities are divided between the two though remains something to track.

  • More even rotation at wide receiver

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Ahkello Witherspoon #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots is tackled by Ahkello Witherspoon #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    The strength of the Patriots’ wide receiver room is the depth and versatility of the group. Not only do they have five players who can contribute, but all five bring different skill sets to the table. The only way to capitalize on that though is if all five players play.

    That wasn’t the case in Week 1. DeVante Parker and Jakobi Meyers saw the field most of the day, with usage rates of 100 percent and 88 percent respectively. There was a significant drop-off from there, with Nelson Agholor playing 58 percent of the downs, then all the way down to five percent for Lil’Jordan Humphrey and four percent for Kendrick Bourne.

    This week, things were much more balanced. Meyers led the way playing 82 percent of the snaps, followed by Parker’s 76 percent as his role decreased throughout the game. Agholor was on the field for 50 percent of the snaps, with both Humphrey (38 percent) and Bourne (35 percent) seeing significant increases in playing time.

    Parker and Bourne are the two players to really track here. As mentioned above, Parker’s role dropped off significantly this week, especially late in the game. Over the summer, he looked to be building a strong rapport with Mac Jones, but the two haven’t looked like they’re on the same page since the regular season began. When targeting Parker this season, Jones is 1-of-4 for nine yards with two interceptions. As for Bourne, his playtime increased, but is still well below where it was last year when he was arguably the team’s most dynamic playmaker.

  • Full participation from the offensive line

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots directs his team during the second half in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots directs his team during the second half in the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    During last week’s game, the Patriots rotated up front at both right tackle (Yodny Cajuste spelling Isaiah Wynn) and left guard (James Ferentz spelling Cole Strange) in the middle of the game. That wasn’t the case this week, with all five offensive linemen playing every single snap. Jones was the only other wire-to-wire offensive player.

    The cycling last week led to some speculation that the Patriots coaching staff may not trust Wynn and Strong at this point. Instead, it appears that may have been due instead to keeping people fresh in the Miami heat and humidity. Strange in particular made a statement in this game, holding his own against Steelers All-Pro defensive tackle Cameron Heyward.

  • Injuries create change at linebacker?

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - SEPTEMBER 18: Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended for Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – SEPTEMBER 18: Mack Wilson Sr. #30 of the New England Patriots breaks up a pass intended for Diontae Johnson #18 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium on September 18, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

    After a strong training camp and preseason, Raekwon McMillan got the nod in Week 1 as the Patriots’ off-ball middle linebacker, playing 70 percent of the team’s defensive snaps. That was second only to captain Ja’Whaun Bentley, who played 72 percent of the snaps.

    To earn that role, McMillan beat out Mack Wilson and Jahlani Tavai. Both Wilson and Tavai played rotational role sin Week 1, with Wilson seeing a 35 percent usage rate, while Tavai was at 28 percent.

    McMillan played well in that significant role, and seemed poised to continue it moving forward. However, he popped up on the injury report on Friday with a thumb injury. Although he played, his appeared to be limited playing just 20 percent of the defensive snaps. Wilson stepped up in his place, with his usage rate increasing to 64 percent. Tavai’s role didn’t change much, he came in at 24 percent.

    Given his chance, Wilson certainly put solid play on tape, highlighted by his pass deflection that led to an interception early in the game. Once McMillan is healthy, it will be interesting to see if they go back to him, stick with Wilson, or adjust week-to-week on a matchup basis with McMillan being more of a run-stopper and Wilson more of a coverage player.

  • 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 abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.