Patriots Snap Count Analysis: These Young Defenders Stepped Up Vs. Jets

Plus: Some creative tackle usage from Josh McDaniels

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Breaking down snap counts and play percentages from the New England Patriots’ 54-13 win over the New York Jets on Sunday:

OFFENSE

— Mac Jones must have felt like he was back at Alabama as he watched the end of his resounding victory from the sideline. The Patriots sent in veteran backup Brian Hoyer for their final two drives, the first of which produced their seventh and final touchdown.

— Right guard Shaq Mason, who missed the previous two games with an abdomen injury, didn’t finish this one. James Ferentz played the final 16 offensive snaps. It’s unclear whether Mason could have continued if the outcome had not been already decided.

— Starting tackles Isaiah Wynn and Mike Onwenu both played every snap, but third tackle Justin Herron also saw extensive action as a jumbo tight end (14 snaps).

Most of Herron’s playing time came after Jonnu Smith left the game with a shoulder injury, leaving the Patriots with just one available tight end (Hunter Henry). But coordinator Josh McDaniels also got creative with the reserve tackle early on, occasionally subbing him in for Henry in two-tight end sets.

Inserting an extra O-lineman typically tells the defense to expect a running play, but the Patriots called play-action passes on each of Herron’s first two snaps, with one resulting in a 24-yard gain to Smith.

— Smith was targeted or carried the ball on six of his 17 offensive snaps, plus another that was wiped out by a penalty. Getting their struggling tight end involved clearly was a focus for the Patriots. The results were mixed (two receptions on five targets), but Smith delivered catch-and-run plays of 28 and 24 yards, nearly equaling his yardage total from the previous four games combined (54).

— Guard Ted Karras should be a fixture in the Patriots’ starting offensive line moving forward. A backup to start the year, Karras has played every snap over the last three games. He’s allowed three total pressures (all hurries) on 129 pass-blocking snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and was a beast in the run game Sunday.

— Wide receiver N’Keal Harry played a season-high 30 offensive snaps. He finished with just one catch on two targets, but it was an acrobatic leaping grab over a Jets defender — the first highlight-reel reception of the season for a player once renowned for his contested-catch ability.

We’ll see if that play, which came during Hoyer’s late touchdown drive, can serve as a springboard for the 2019 first-round draft pick, who has just three catches in four games this season.

— All 11 Patriots skill players who dressed for Sunday’s game caught at least one pass. Nine caught balls from Mac Jones, with Harry and Gunner Olszewski adding receptions from Hoyer.

DEFENSE

— With Dont’a Hightower sidelined with elbow and ankle injuries, linebacker Kyle Van Noy hardly left the field, playing 62 of 65 defensive snaps. Harvey Langi started in Hightower’s inside ‘backer spot but played just five defensive snaps before suffering an injury on special teams and exiting the game.

Jamie Collins didn’t see a significant uptick in playing time with Hightower out, logging a modest 16 defensive snaps.

— After playing all but one snap over the Patriots’ first six games, veteran safety Devin McCourty was limited to just 18 against the Jets (28%). He suffered an abdomen injury early in the second quarter and did not return, though he did remain on the sideline for the remainder of the game.

This presented the Patriots with an unusual in-game challenge. Because McCourty hasn’t missed a game since 2015 and plays 100% of defensive snaps on a near-weekly basis, New England rarely has needed to worry about replacing him.

They did so Sunday with a combination of Adrian Phillips, Kyle Dugger and recently promoted practice squadder Myles Bryant.

“We’re fortunate we have three really good safeties,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said postgame. “Devin has certainly quarterbacked the secondary for a long time back there, but those guys practice and they rotate through there, so Kyle and AP are both very good players in their own right and both smart players, so they handled things. Myles also stepped back in there and played some safety, as well, in a couple of our different defensive groups.”

Bryant began the game as the Patriots’ top slot cornerback — replacing Jonathan Jones, who is on injured reserve and reportedly will undergo season-ending shoulder surgery — but saw significant action as a deep safety after McCourty’s injury, with Jalen Mills shifting to the slot and Joejuan Williams entering at outside corner. The second-year pro played 31 snaps in the slot, 22 at free safety, two at wide corner and one in the box, per PFF.

Dugger allowed an early third-down conversion and was flagged for pass interference, but he atoned for his miscues with a red-zone interception, his second in the last two weeks. Bryant registered a sack on the Patriots’ first defensive possession and a forced fumble on their last.

McCourty’s 28% play-time percentage was his lowest since at least 2012, when Pro Football Reference began tracking player snap counts.

— This might have been the best game of Williams’ three-year NFL career, and it came at a crucial time for the 2019 second-rounder.

Back in the lineup after two healthy scratches and a Week 5 benching, Williams played 34 defensive snaps, broke up three passes and allowed one reception on five targets for 8 yards, per PFF. He was PFF’s highest-graded Patriots player.

— Rookie Christian Barmore led all Patriots defensive linemen in snaps played (41; 63%), continuing his promising start to the season. Barmore also paced all New England pass rushers with four pressures and two QB hits.

That play-time percentage was a new career-high for the second-round draft pick, who played through a shoulder injury. He’s played at least 44% of defensive snaps in every game this season and has been above 55% in four of the seven.

“He’s improved all the way through,” Belichick said. “He’s been out there. He’s been durable. He’s continued to get snaps on the field daily, and he’s learned from those snaps, and he’s gotten better at the multiple things he’s been asked to do. … I’m glad we have him. I think he’s made a lot of progress, and I think he’ll be a good player.”

— Defensive tackle Daniel Ekuale played 17 snaps in his Patriots debut after being elevated from the practice squad. He closed out the first half by sacking Jets backup quarterback Mike White.

— Here’s a milestone: Core special teamer Brandon King, who’s been with the Patriots since 2015, played the first two defensive snaps of his NFL career.

King has played 1,233 career snaps in the kicking game and occasionally plays on defense during the preseason, but this was the first regular-season defensive action for the 28-year-old linebacker.

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