For the third time in three weeks, Danny Shelton watched in street clothes Sunday afternoon as the New England Patriots’ defense was ripped to shreds by an opposing running back.
The Patriots have allowed more yards per carry since Week 13 — an astounding 7.64 — than in any three-game stretch since the franchise’s inception in 1960. That mark also is the fourth-worst by any NFL team since the merger.
Yet Shelton, an above-average run stuffer during his four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, has been unable to crack the 46-man gameday roster, sitting out each of the last three games as a healthy scratch.
No specific explanation has been given for Shelton’s inactivity, with Patriots coach Bill Belichick offering a general response when asked about it Monday.
“It’s not about any individual player,” Belichick said one day after his team surrendered 142 rushing yards to rookie Jaylen Samuels in a 17-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. “It’s about each week we’re allowed to activate 46 of our 53 man roster players to play, and so that’s what we do, and we activate those players based on the particular opponent and game that we’re playing.
“Obviously, a player could potentially not be activated because of injury, but regardless, there are always some players — almost always, I would say — there are some players that could play in the game, but you can’t take all of them, because you can only take 46. So we take the 46 players that we think will give us the best opportunity to win that particular week.”
Samuels, who hadn’t rushed for 100 yards in a game since high school, followed in the footsteps of Dalvin Cook, Brandon Bolden and Frank Gore, all of whom have gashed the Patriots’ defense during Shelton’s absence.
Shelton was struggling before the Patriots sat him down, so having him active Sunday might not have fixed the problem, especially since New England spent much of the game in dime defense. Still, it’s been surprising to see the Patriots continue to enter games with Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown as their only run-stuffing defensive tackles.
Their other active D-tackle, Adam Butler, is a pass rush specialist who played more snaps in run defense against Pittsburgh (13) than he had in the previous three games combined.
Shelton, who hadn’t missed an NFL game for non-injury-related reasons before being made inactive against the Minnesota Vikings earlier this month, addressed his benching last week.
“Honestly, for me personally, I’m just focused on this week and focused on this opportunity,” the 25-year-old said. “When I get the opportunity, I’ll be ready, and hopefully I can execute and dominate.”
Shelton has played in 11 games and tallied 18 tackles for the Patriots since coming over from Cleveland in an offseason trade. New England hosts the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in their penultimate regular-season contest.