Patriots Snap Count Analysis: How Pats Changed Tactics With Jonnu Smith

Smith had one of his best games as a Patriot on Sunday

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Breaking down snap counts and play percentages from the New England Patriots’ 36-13 win over the Tennessee Titans on Sunday:

OFFENSE

— The Patriots split snaps almost equally between running backs Damien Harris (22), Rhamondre Stevenson (20) and Brandon Bolden (19). The run game struggled for three quarters before finally gaining some traction late, with Stevenson ripping off carries of 4, 6, 10 and 19 yards on the Patriots’ second-to-last possession and Harris adding a 7-yarder and a 14-yard touchdown on the final drive.

In two games since returning from his concussion, Harris had logged 47 snaps to Stevenson’s 42, and each has carried the ball 21 times. That’s a far more equitable split than we saw earlier in the season. The coaching staff seems to be rewarding Stevenson for his hard running with more playing time.

— New England subverted some previously established tendencies with tight end Jonnu Smith.

Recently, the struggling Smith has been used more as a run blocker, with fellow tight end Hunter Henry handling more pass-catching duties. That again was the case on Sunday: Henry ran routes on 58.5% of his snaps to Smith’s 38.2%, per Pro Football Focus.

But Smith’s route rate was his highest since Week 7, when he was used as a receiver on 52.9% of his snaps against the New York Jets before leaving with a shoulder injury. And he responded with one of his best games as a Patriot.

Smith, a former Titan, caught three passes on four targets for 49 yards against his old team, with 28 of his yards coming after the catch. It was the first time he’d caught more than two passes in a game since Week 4, and he fell just 3 receiving yards short of his season high (52 on two catches in that Week 7 Jets game).

Though his overall numbers have been lackluster (25-259-1 receiving line, plus five carries for 29 yards in 11 games), Smith leads all NFL tight ends in yards-after-catch per reception (8.6), per NFL Next Gen Stats, and ranks third among all qualified players in that category, trailing only wideouts Deebo Samuel and Rondale Moore.

“Jonnu’s been a good player for us all year,” head coach Bill Belichick said Monday in a video conference. “He brings a level of toughness in the running game and explosiveness with the ball in his hands. Even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, he’s still an explosive player in the passing game that the defense has to respect, and if they don’t, he’ll big-play them. If they do, a lot of times that creates space for other players.

“I thought his in-line blocking — which is something he’s always done very well — continues to be a strength for him and us. When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a fast player that’s big, explosive, and hard to tackle. I love to see him with the ball in his hands in space. He gave us some big plays early in the game to kind of help get us going there, which is always a good thing.”

— Emerging standout Kendrick Bourne continues to run as the Patriots’ No. 3 wideout, playing 33 snaps Sunday to Jakobi Meyers’ 52 and Nelson Agholor’s 50. Bourne, who caught two touchdown passes against Tennessee, leads the team in receiving yards this season with 562. He’s also in a virtual dead heat with Meyers in receptions per route run, per PFF, with Agholor sitting in a distant third:

Receptions per route run through 12 games
Meyers:
0.1486
Bourne: 0.1468
Agholor: 0.09

— Ted Karras played most of the game at left guard, but super-sub Mike Onwenu replaced him for two series during the second quarter. Ownenu also has been used to spell Trent Brown since the big right tackle’s return bumped him out of the starting lineup.

DEFENSE

— For the first time in six weeks, Christian Barmore did not lead New England’s defensive linemen in snaps played. In this game, the rookie was third (52%) behind Davon Godchaux (78%) and Lawrence Guy (65%).

Barmore has been used as a pass rusher on nearly three-quarters of his defensive snaps this season, and with the Titans running the ball 39 times for 270 yards, there weren’t as many of those opportunities on Sunday.

Godchaux’s snap rate was his highest since 2019.

— With the Patriots using more base defense in the early going, Adrian Phillips (70%) lagged behind fellow safeties Devin McCourty (94%) and Kyle Dugger (86%) in playing time.

— Outside linebacker Chase Winovich hasn’t seen much action since his return from injured reserve. He played five defensive snaps last week and six this week.

— Reserve cornerback Shaun Wade got some late run, playing seven defensive snaps in garbage time. Wade played four snaps the previous week in his NFL debut.

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