Patriots Snap Count Takeaways: Why Cam Newton Looks Like Week 1 Starter

Newton started all three preseason games

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Who will start at quarterback for the New England Patriots in Week 1? Which roster-bubble players will make the cut? Which young players are poised to play significant roles this season?

The Patriots, who must cut their roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, hinted at answers to those questions in Sunday night’s preseason finale against the New York Giants.

Here are some snap-count takeaways from New England’s 22-20 win at MetLife Stadium:

OFFENSE

— Head coach Bill Belichick after the game said he hadn’t decided which quarterback will start against the Miami Dolphins in the Patriots’ regular-season opener. But the snap distribution between Cam Newton and Mac Jones suggests it’ll likely be the veteran.

Newton, who started all three preseason games, played two series with the offensive starters, then took the rest of the night off. For the second consecutive week, Jones played every one of his snaps behind the Patriots’ backup O-line.

Jones saw the most action in each of New England’s exhibition games, followed by third-stringer Brian Hoyer and then Newton:

vs. Washington
Newton: 12 snaps
Jones: 33 snaps
Hoyer: 14 snaps

vs. Eagles
Newton: 17 snaps
Jones: 42 snaps
Hoyer: 20 snaps

vs. Giants
Newton: nine snaps
Jones: 32 snaps
Hoyer: 18 snaps

Preseason total
Newton: 38 snaps
Jones: 107 snaps
Hoyer: 52 snaps

“Players that’ve played a long time got fewer snaps,” Belichick said Monday. “Players that haven’t played as much — rookie players, younger players — got more snaps. You balance off the game snaps with the practice snaps. … We have a volume of work to look at, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

— The Patriots’ entire first-team offense, including skill players, all played just two series and fewer than 10 snaps. This included third receiver Kendrick Bourne, who logged just three early snaps after playing 39 against the Eagles.

— Tight end Devin Asiasi (49 snaps) had his best game as a pro, finishing with four catches on four targets for 64 yards. His lone preseason target before Sunday was a dropped touchdown against Philadelphia.

— The Patriots took long looks at second-year wideouts Kristian Wilkerson (48 snaps) and Isaiah Zuber (44 snaps). Wilkerson led all New England receivers with four catches on five targets for 72 yards, and Zuber caught a touchdown pass from Jones (but dropped another). Gunner Olszewski (15 snaps) didn’t play after halftime and was not used as a punt returner.

— J.J. Taylor (36 snaps) led the way among running backs, with Rhamondre Stevenson playing 16 snaps and first-teamers Damien Harris logging seven and three, respectively.

— Ted Karras started at center with David Andrews sidelined and later shifted to guard.

DEFENSE

— Most of New England’s starting defense exited after two series, continuing a trend from the first two preseason games. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Ja’Whaun Bentley saw a few additional snaps. They were out by the Giants’ fourth drive, as were Josh Uche and Christian Barmore.

— With Jonathan Jones out, D’Angelo Ross got the start at slot corner, bumping Joejuan Williams out of the starting lineup. (Previously, Jalen Mills had started in the slot in Jones’ absence, with Williams starting outside opposite J.C. Jackson.) Ross later moved to safety and pulled down an interception in the end zone.

— Defensive lineman Henry Anderson and outside linebacker Chase Winovich both played deep into the fourth quarter.

— Newly acquired rookie cornerback Shaun Wade played 39 defensive snaps and another six on special teams in his Patriots debut. Belichick said Wade, who came over from the Baltimore Ravens last Thursday, “seems to be picking things up quickly.”

— There’s a compelling roster battle for what likely will be the final defensive tackle spot. Akeem Spence, Montravius Adams and Carl Davis all saw time with the starting defense. Spence (43) and Adams (41) finished with similar snap counts, while Davis played just 11.

— Knowing their defensive leader doesn’t need the extra reps, the Patriots gave safety Devin McCourty just 14 total snaps in the preseason. Defensive end Deatrich Wise played 10 or fewer snaps in all three games.

SPECIAL TEAMS

— Nick Folk took the Patriots’ first field-goal attempt (good from 41 yards) before giving way to undrafted rookie Quinn Nordin. Nordin drilled kicks from 48 and 37 and converted his lone extra point before missing wide left on a 54-yard field-goal try.

“It was a very competitive spot and is a competitive spot,” Belichick said of the Patriots’ kicker battle. “We’ll have to make a decision, but it’s good to have that kind of competition.”

— Cornerback Dee Virgin, who’s vying for a roster spot as a core special teamer, led all Patriots with 17 special teams snaps, followed by Michael Jackson with 16. (Jackson struggled in pass coverage Sunday night.)

Tied for third on that list with linebacker Harvey Langi was an unlikely name: defensive tackle Bill Murray. Murray had a surprisingly large special teams role this preseason for a man of his size (6-foot-4, 265 pounds) and position, playing in punt and kick coverage and as an upback on the kickoff return team.

The second-year undrafted free agent also was one of the Patriots’ most productive pass rushers this summer, leading the team with nine total QB pressures and registering 1 1/2 sacks against the Giants.

So he’s got that going for him, which is nice.

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Mac Jones
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