While many expected the season-opener between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots to be a close contest, Patriots fans were likely less-than-pleased with the outcome. The story of the day for New England would be lost fumbles (each by running backs Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris) and costly penalties, as the Patriots fell to the Dolphins 17-16 in their week one season opener. Still, there were some bright spots for the Pats. In his NFL regular-season debut, Mac Jones threw for 281 yards, going 29-for-39 with one touchdown, looking poised and in command of the Pats offense. New England’s defensive front seven looked to be much improved from their 2020 counterpart.
Heading into their Week Two matchup with the New York Jets, there are plenty of areas in which the Patriots will seek improvement. While game film analysis will be the main focus, a look at playing time may assist the Pats in helping to devise a more effective strategy moving forward.
Here is a look at the Patriots offensive and defensive snap counts from Sunday’s season-opener, along with some possible insight on New England’s future game planning.
On offense, New England took a total of 75 snaps on Sunday against Miami:
Unsurprisingly, a core four of Patriots offensive linemen were atop the list of offensive snaps taken on Sunday. The left side of the Pats offensive line was consistent in its personnel, with tackle Isaiah Wynn and guard Michael Onwenu providing protection for Mac Jones. Right guard Shaq Mason and C David Andrews were also in on 100% of the Patriots 75 offensive snaps.
The Pats ran 12-man personnel in 31 of their 71 offensive plays on Sunday. Therefore, it was not a surprise to see both tight ends, Hunter Henry (54 snaps) and Jonnu Smith (55 snaps) for greater than 70% of the Patriots offensive output. While the productivity may still be building (eight catches on 73 yards combined), it is clear that Josh McDaniels is looking to make the duo a cornerstone of the Pats offensive alignments in 2020.
It was widely expected that receiver Jakobi Meyers would be the primary option at wideout for the Pats, and Sunday’s numbers support that theory. Meyers participated in every snap on Sunday, save for one. Newcomer Nelson Agholor was second on the receiver depth chart, seeing the field for 85% of New England’s offensive snaps. The former Las Vegas Raider, and Philadelphia Eagle, was on the receiving end of Mac Jones’s first career touchdown pass. As the synergy between the two continues to grow, look for Agholor to be near the top of the snap chart each week.
One of the easiest ways to fall from the graces of head coach Bill Belichick is to exhibit poor ball security. Rhamondre Stevenson may be learning that lesson the hard way. With J.J. Taylor inactive, Stevenson was expected to play a larger role in the Pats offensive game plan on Sunday. Despite a standout preseason, the rookie saw merely five snaps against the Dolphins, after his fumble ended a promising offensive drive in the first quarter. The former Oklahoma Sooner had some ball security issues in college, as well. It is a sound bet that Stevenson will be working with running backs coach Ivan Fears, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the Pats coaching staff to shore up his protection of the football. Otherwise, he might continue to be used sparingly, at best.
Following the departure of right tackle Trent Brown with a calf injury, the Pats turned to reserve swing lineman Justin Herron to play the fill-in role. The second-year offensive lineman (who was on the field for 46 offensive snaps) repeatedly had difficulties on his blocks and found himself on the losing end of his matchups with Miami’s defensive front. This eventually led to his being replaced in the lineup by newly-acquired Yasir Durant. Should Brown be out for an extended period of time, the Pats are likely to pull upon other depth pieces to shoulder the load, including Yodny Cajuste, who was inactive on Sunday while dealing with a hamstring injury.
On Sunday, the Patriots took a total of 54 snaps on defense:
Rightfully so, a trio of Pats defensive backs continue to be mainstays on the field for game day. Safety Devin McCourty and cornerback J.C. Jackson (each the primary options at their respective positions) saw action in all 54 of Sunday’s snaps for the Patriots. Safety Kyle Dugger continues to be an integral part of the Pats overall defensive game plan, playing in 93% of New England’s snaps (50) against the Dolphins. His ability to cover and read the offense has clearly earned him the trust of the Pats defensive coaching staff.
Despite being on the field for only 33 snaps, safety Adrian Phillips made the most of his time, and certainly made his presence felt. Nearing the end of the third quarter, the versatile defensive back was able to maneuver into the Dolphins’ backfield to help stifle a run on first down. Shortly thereafter, he made an open-field tackle against a screen on third down. It was one of Phiullip’s best sequences of the day. In the fourth quarter, Phillips was instrumental on the coverage (along with linebacker Matt Judon) which led to Jonathan Jones’ interception of Tua Tagovailoa.
Defensive tackle Christian Barmore saw action on 26 snaps (48%) on Sunday, which is a strong total for a rookie defender. The Pats defensive front put in a solid performance, and Barmore was a notable contributor with several pushes of the pocket. Look for the Alabama product to see his snap totals increase as he continues to find comfort in his role on New England’s defensive line.
Both defensive tackle Henry Anderson (6%) and edge defender Chase Winovich (22%) saw limited snaps. While some of that may be explained by scheme and strategy, each of them still seems to be earning their spot in the Pats defensive rotation. Anderson is at his best when applying pressure to the quarterback, while quickly getting into position to stuff the run. Winovich continues to work his way back into game shape, after missing significant time during training camp and preseason. Like Anderson, Winovich is most effective as an off-the-ball defender, or as a package-specific pass rusher. Still, he needs to focus on his consistency; especially when it comes to funneling run plays into the middle. Though the Patriots defense was strong on manageable third down situations, they struggled when failing to contain the Dolphins on early downs. As a result, package-specific defenders like Anderson and Winovich saw limited time on Sunday. It is worth monitoring their snap counts in Week Two, in order to determine whether Sunday’s usage was more scheme-specific, or a sign of things to come.