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New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 26: Brandon Bolden #25 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball against Cameron Jordan #94 of the New Orleans Saints during the game at Gillette Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The Patriots knew they were going up against a stout Saints run defense, so it makes sense that they really aired it out for the first time with Mac Jones at quarterback. Problem is, they lost arguably their most reliable pass-catcher and had less-than-stellar results.

Running back James White departed early in the second quarter with a hip injury, and had to be carted off the field in the process. Left without one of Jones’ top safety valves, the Pats only ran more three-receiver sets, especially as they had to play from behind by two scores. Brandon Bolden (32 snaps) was the main beneficiary from the loss of White, but carried the ball only three times for -1 yards and caught 3-of-4 targets for 23 yards.

Here’s an in-depth look at how the Patriots deployed their offensive personnel against the Saints…

  • Snap Counts

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 26: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots makes the catch and runs it in for a touchdown as Paulson Adebo #29 of the New Orleans Saints defends in the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The New Orleans Saints beat the New England Patriots 28-13. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 26: Kendrick Bourne #84 of the New England Patriots makes the catch and runs it in for a touchdown as Paulson Adebo #29 of the New Orleans Saints defends in the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium on September 26, 2021 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The New Orleans Saints beat the New England Patriots 28-13. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    Here are the total offensive snaps for the Patriots’ skill position players…

    Jakobi Meyers: 69
    Nelson Agholor: 58
    Kendrick Bourne: 55
    Hunter Henry: 52
    Brandon Bolden: 33
    Jonnu Smith: 30
    Damien Harris: 22
    Gunner Olszewski: 16
    J.J. Taylor: 10
    Jakob Johnson: 9
    James White: 6

    For the first time this season, Jakobi Meyers didn’t lead skill players in snaps. That distinction went to Agholor. Unfortunately, he didn’t do a ton with that workload, catching just two of his eight targets for 17 yards.

    Kendrick Bourne made the most of his increased workload, as the Patriots ran a far higher percentage of plays in “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) than the first two weeks. Bourne caught six passes for 96 yards and a touchdown as one of the team’s lone bright spots.

    Jonnu Smith, meanwhile, made the least of his 30 snaps. He caught just one of his six targets for four yards, dropped one pass, and bobbled another that led to a pick-six on the first play of the third quarter.

  • Personnel Packages

    Sep 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 26, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) throws a pass against the New Orleans Saints during the second half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    This may have been the plan from the start, but the Patriots obviously favored three-receiver sets in this game. And without White, they even resorted to one play with no running backs whatsoever – the rare “02” package (two tight ends, three receivers). Below is the snap distribution of the Patriots’ personnel packages against the Saints. (Note: Groupings are defined by a two-digit number, the first digit being the number of running backs, and the second digit being the number of tight ends. Ex. “11” personnel = one running back, one tight end.)

    11 personnel: 76.4 percent (55/72)
    12 personnel: 9.7 percent (7/72)
    21 personnel: 9.7 percent (7/72)
    22 personnel: 2.8 percent (2/72)
    02 personnel: 1.4 percent (1/72)

    Only seven snaps with both tight ends on the field doesn’t seem ideal, especially after it was the Pats’ most productive package against the Jets. But this is illustrative of the week-to-week need to adapt your offense to the opponent and the situations that come up throughout the game. It’s no surprise that the Patriots went heavy on “11,” since they fell behind early and had to play catch-up for almost the whole 60 minutes.

  • Running vs Passing

    Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith, left, can't hold onto the ball as Saints defenderMalcolm Jenkins breaks up the play in the second quarter. (Syndication: The Providence Journal)

    Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith, left, can’t hold onto the ball as Saints defenderMalcolm Jenkins breaks up the play in the second quarter. (Syndication: The Providence Journal)

    One thing the Patriots typically want to be on offense is unpredictable. Outside of one grouping, they didn’t show much unpredictability against the Saints. Here are the run/pass splits among all the personnel packages used by the Patriots on Sunday:

    11 personnel: 85.4 percent passing (47/55)
    12 personnel: 71.4 percent passing (5/7)
    21 personnel: 57.1 percent passing (4/7)
    22 personnel: 100 percent running (2/2)
    02 personnel: 100 percent passing (1/1)

    Interestingly enough, the Patriots passed more than they ran out of “21” personnel. Small sample size, and ultimately inconsequential to the game, sure. But an indication that they wanted to get the Saints’ run-stopping personnel on the field, before spreading it out and throwing. It obviously didn’t work, and the Patriots lacked opportunities to dictate the game when they had the ball.

  • Mixing It Up

    As far as the group of players deployed in their various personnel packages, the Patriots used 19 different groupings against the Saints. That’s a season-high. Like Sean Payton enjoys doing with his own offense, Bill Belichick apparently wanted to avoid running out the same groupings too often.

    It’s a reflection of mixing in Gunner Olszewski (season-high 15 snaps) more than usual, as well as the need to adjust to the loss of White.

    Next Patriots Personnel Report comes after next Sunday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    Note: This story was updated with more accurate information on the Patriots’ offensive snap counts.