Chase Winovich was arguably the New England Patriots’ best defensive player for the first month of the season. Now, he’s hardly seeing the field.
The second-year edge rusher saw his playing time decline yet again in Sunday’s 24-21 road loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Per NESN.com’s tracking, Winovich was on the field for just five defensive snaps against Buffalo — a career low for the 2019 third-round draft pick. He also lined up for another that was blown dead for a pre-snap penalty.
This continued a trend for Winovich, whose snap count first began dwindling in New England’s Week 6 loss to the Denver Broncos.
After playing 67.7 percent, 74.6 percent, 54.2 percent and 66.1 percent of defensive snaps in the Patriots’ first four games, Winovich played just 34.4 percent against the Broncos (22 of 64). In a loss to San Francisco the following week, he played a season-low 19.7 percent, with nine of his 13 snaps coming on the 49ers’ first two possessions.
As we mentioned last week, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said following New England’s season opener that he expected Winovich “to be out on the field a good part of the time in all games.” That simply has not been the case of late.
So, why the drop? Some of it was personnel-based.
The Patriots played much of Sunday’s game in a four-man front featuring three down linemen (some combo of Lawrence Guy, Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise, Byron Cowart and Nick Thurman) and John Simon as a stand-up outside linebacker. Winovich wouldn’t have a role in this package.
But when the Patriots sent out two D-linemen and two stand-up edge rushers, which they did on nearly 20 early-down snaps, practice squad call-up Tashawn Bower, not Winovich, bookended the line opposite Simon.
Bower has made a few nice plays in the last two games, but it’s notable that a player who’s not even on the 53-man roster is playing over someone like Winovich, a highly touted second-year pro who started the first five games this season.
On Sunday, Winovich was back in his primary role from last season: situational third-down pass rusher. His five snaps came on third-and-4, third-and-17, third-and-9, third-and-8 and third-and-5. The Bills ran just one play on third-and-4 or longer without Winovich on the field (J.C. Jackson’s second-quarter interception, which came on third-and-9).
Patriots coach Bill Belichick does not seem to trust Winovich as a run defender. And he has made some mistakes in that area, particularly against Denver.
But the Patriots have allowed 522 rushing yards over their last three games — an average of 174 per game and 4.7 per carry. The Bills, who entered the week ranked 32nd — dead last — in rushing offense DVOA, ran for 190 on Sunday at a 5.0 yards-per-carry clip.
Could Winovich — an explosive pass rusher who still leads the team in sacks and quarterback hits despite not tallying one of either in the last three games — really make things much worse?