The New England Patriots threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Baltimore Ravens’ offense in their Week 10 upset win.
With the Patriots’ lack of depth at inside linebacker, it wouldn’t have been overly shocking if they used an actual kitchen sink to fill rushing lanes Sunday night.
But seriously, the Patriots deployed Chase Winovich and John Simon, usually edge defenders, in off-ball linebacker roles, roaming around the defense. Rookie Kyle Dugger also started for the first time in his NFL career and wound up playing over 80 percent of defensive snaps.
It was effective. The Patriots, 7-point underdogs coming into Sunday’s game, won 23-17.
“I’ve always said this: I’m a football player just looking for opportunities to help the team win any way possible,” Winovich said after the game. “This was a really fun game for a lot of reasons, but getting to play off the ball again was something I definitely enjoyed. I view myself as a pretty versatile football player. I’m just really thankful to my coaches for, A) giving me the opportunity to expand my role. Secondly, thankful for my teammates Ja’Whaun Bentley, Terez Hall, John Simon and specifically (outside linebackers coach) Steve Belichick with the coverage stuff, just helping me get my mind oriented and get my keys right. And (inside linebackers coach) Jerod (Mayo), especially, with the in-game adjustments. I can thank everybody, but I pretty much did. Thankful to my teammates and coaches for helping to prepare me for this game. It was a great team win and really happy to be here.”
Heading into Week 10, Winovich had only played 24 career snaps off of the defensive line in his NFL career, per PFF. He played 19 snaps as an off-ball linebacker Sunday night as the Patriots played with a 3-3 defensive alignment with Winovich, Simon and Terez Hall as linebackers.
?I have never played a game that much off the ball since high school,” Winovich said. “If you go back and watch my high school tape, it really felt like I was playing high school ball in a way. I had a blast. I love just being in a position where I can pursue and play physical, so when I am in a position like that it allows me to make the most of some of my attributes. Just being able to attack and play and come off the edge and penetrate and make fast decisions and use my instincts. It was a fun experience — and drop into coverage, which was cool too.”
Winovich finished the game with seven tackles and multiple pressures in his expanded role. He played 65 defensive snaps — nearly every play — Sunday night, per PFF. That’s just two weeks after he played five snaps against the Buffalo Bills. He’s doing something right.
“He is a beast,” safety Adrian Phillips said Sunday night. “He is one of those people that is like: see ball, hit ball. That’s exactly what he did tonight. He’s a high energy guy and he’s going to bring 110 percent effort. That’s exactly what he did. It worked out good for us, because he just flowed free to the ball, and he was able to make plays. And when you’ve got a guy like that who can rush the passer and run the alley and chase down people, it just makes it hard for the offensive line, because they don’t know where he’s going to be.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick praised Winovich’s effort in practice as the Patriots prepared for the Ravens. The Patriots let up 115 rushing yards on 28 carries to a team that was averaging 170 yards per game and 5.1 yards per carry heading into Week 10.
“I thought Chase had a really good week of practice,” Belichick said. “And he did a good job of — in his role, which again — when you play the Ravens, you have to play good team defense. One guy can’t stop what they do. They have too many options in the running game and they create too many — they can hit too many spots all at once on an individual play. But Chase had a great week of preparation and played hard and we’ll see what the film looked like, but he was definitely aggressive and I think he did a good job in the role that we asked him to do. He and John Simon were really key guys for us along with the defensive line in trying to handle the running game.”
The Patriots are a game-plan defense, so even though Winovich thrived at a different position Sunday night, that doesn’t mean he’ll man the same role next week against the Houston Texans. But it’s certainly notable that Winovich showed versatility in a key win.