Breaking down snap counts and play percentages from the New England Patriots’ 14-10 win over the Buffalo Bills on Monday night:
— The Patriots’ offense brought the beef in this one, as evidenced by Mike Onwenu’s lofty snap count.
The 350-pound O-lineman played 31 offensive snaps against Buffalo, and none of them came as a traditional tackle or guard. The Patriots deployed Onwenu as a jumbo tight end on more than half of their snaps, often aligning him alongside right tackle Trent Brown, tight end Jonnu Smith and N’Keal Harry and in front of fullback Jakob Johnson.
The Bills loaded up the box to stop this obviously run-focused personnel grouping, but they simply couldn’t. Excluding a pair of game-ending kneeldowns, the Patriots averaged 6.3 yards per play and 6.1 yards per carry with Onwenu on the field, including seven runs of 10-plus yards and a 64-yard Damien Harris touchdown.
On one second-half drive, the Patriots used six O-linemen on 11 of 14 snaps. They battered the Bills’ defense with repeated variations of the same play, as described by NFL Media’s Brian Baldinger:
The Patriots utilized an extra lineman — always Onwenu — on 61% of their offensive plays, the highest rate by any team since NFL Next Gen Stats began tracking player data in 2016.
— This game plan also asked a lot of run-focused players like Smith (season-high 76% of offensive snaps), Harry (49%) and Johnson (season-high 49%) while those who play more in the passing game, like tight end Hunter Henry, had smaller roles.
Henry (29%) and wideouts Jakobi Meyers (53%), Nelson Agholor (49%) and Kendrick Bourne (29%) all finished with season-low snap rates. Third-down back Brandon Bolden also played his fewest snaps (12%) since James White’s season-ending injury.
Quarterback Mac Jones attempted just three total passes in the win, the lowest single-game mark in Patriots franchise history and the second-lowest by any team since the AFL-NFL merger. New England finished with 222 rushing yards and averaged 5.7 yards per carry on handoffs to running backs.
— A hamstring injury limited Harris, who led all rushers with 111 yards on 10 carries, to one snap after halftime. The severity of that injury remained unclear as of Tuesday afternoon, but he’ll have an extra week to recover with the Patriots now entering their bye.
— Slot/safety Myles Bryant saw the largest uptick in playing time with starter and leading tackler Kyle Dugger on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Bryant got his first NFL start and was on the field for all but four of New England’s 58 defensive snaps. His fourth-down pass breakup in the final minutes iced the game for the Patriots.
— With one member of the Patriots’ top safety trio unavailable, Devin McCourty and Adrian Phillips hardly left the field. McCourty played every defensive snap, and Phillips played all but one, sitting out Buffalo’s final offensive play after he suffered an apparent knee injury while breaking up an end-zone pass to tight end Dawson Knox.
As with Harris, there’s been no official update on Phillips’ status, but he appeared to share good news on Twitter after the game.
— With no Dugger and no Phillips, the Patriots had practice squad call-up Sean Davis on the field for the game’s pivotal play. Davis, a former starter with the Pittsburgh Steelers, rushed with McCourty on a double safety blitz while Bryant, J.C. Jackson and Jalen Mills covered Buffalo’s three pass-catchers.
The 28-year-old Davis played a total of five snaps in his Patriots debut.
— Joejuan Williams nearly allowed a long touchdown to Stefon Diggs on one of his four defensive snaps.
— Credit Davon Godchaux for helping stifle the Bills’ struggling rushing attack. Godchaux paced all Patriots defensive linemen in playing time (78%) and recorded a team-high 10 tackles — a notably high number for a nose tackle.
Josh Allen had some success on scrambles and designed quarterback runs, but Godchaux and the Patriots held Buffalo’s running backs to 60 yards on 19 carries.