While the fanbase will count Sunday’s Week Three matchup as ‘one to forget,’ the New England Patriots will be reminded of it often as they prepare to move forward into the 2021 NFL Season. The Pats fell to 1-2 on the year with a 28-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The story of the day for the Patriots was their inability to execute when it was needed most. The Patriots were largely ineffective on offense, showed a lack of consistent aggression on defense, and made mistakes on special teams, as well.
Heading into their Week Four matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 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 effective strategies moving forward.
Here is a look at the Patriots offensive and defensive snap counts from Sunday’s matchup, along with some possible insight on New England’s future game-planning.
On offense, the Pats snap count was 72 on Sunday:
For the second straight week, starting right tackle Trent Brown was listed among the inactive players against New Orleans. After a disastrous start to Week Two, reserve lineman Yasir Durant was mostly sidelined on Sunday, in favor of Justin Herron. The second-year swing tackle played in 93 percent of the Pats’ offensive snaps on Sunday (67 total), as opposed to five for Durant. Despite the personnel, the Pats continued to struggle in both pass and run protection. They have collectively struggled to keep Mac Jones upright, as the young quarterback found himself pressured on 17 drop backs, and was hit 11 times; taking two sacks. With head coach Bill Belichick showing no signs of re-shuffling the line [i.e. temporarily moving Michael Onwenu back to right tackle], the Pats should be hopeful for the swift return of Brown to the lineup.
The biggest ‘climber’ this week was receiver Kendrick Bourne, who was on the field for 76 percent of the Patriots’ snaps, up from 53 percent last week. Bourne was a key part of several three-wide looks that the Pats deployed on Sunday in 11-man personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end and 3 receivers). Bourne made the most of his time, hauling in 96 yards on six catches, with the Pats only touchdown.
The Pats tight ends each saw declines in their time on the field. Hunter Henry took 52 total snaps on offense, while Jonnu Smith saw only 30. Both positional newcomers had rough days on Sunday — particularly Smith who caught just one pass on six targets with two drops (one of which he fumbled directly into the hands of safety Malcolm Jenkins, who ran it back for a pick-six.) Through three games, Smith and Henry have combined for 20 catches for 183 yards, with zero touchdowns.
On Sunday, the Patriots threw the ball 55 times. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that the Pats’ running backs were below the ‘equator’ when it comes to Sunday’s snap totals. Feature back Damien Harris saw action in only 31 percent of New England’s offensive plays, while J.J. Taylor took only ten. Veteran Brandon Bolden (33 snaps) was the primary fill-in for the injured James White. When speaking to the media on Monday, Bill Belichick seemed to indicate that Bolden is likely to continue in that role if White is to be out for an extended period of time.
On Sunday, the Patriots took a total of 62 snaps on defense:
Per usual, the Patriots defensive backfield dominated their snap totals on defense. Captain and safety Devin McCourty led the way with 61 total snaps, followed by cornerback J.C. Jackson with 59, fellow-corner Jalen Mills with 59, and safeties Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips with 57. Mills is the pleasant surprise here, as he has performed well in the second outside corner role, in the absence of Stephon Gilmore.
While some may be alarmed by the decrease in snaps for slot corner Jonathan Jones, the Pats primarily deployed three safety sets on Sunday, as they believed that it was the best way to counteract the Saints dual-threat offense. Jones would have seen a greater amount of time on the field, had the Pats utilized three corners as the central part of their plan.
Despite being one of the top defensive performers from Week Two, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley was only utilized on 48 percent of the Pats’ defensive snaps on Sunday. This seemed a bit odd, considering that Bentley had been playing well during his time on the field. On Monday, Bill Belichick confirmed that Bentley was, in fact, dealing with an injury, thus explaining his reduction in snaps. In his absence, the team inserted practice-squad linebacker Jahlani Tavai, who also played for two second-half defensive series in place of Dont’a Hightower.
While their snap totals may look a bit low, the Pats continue to mix things up along the defensive line. Both Chase Winovich and Christian Barmore saw the majority of their snaps on pass rushing downs while Henry Anderson and Carl Davis were deployed against the running game. Deatrich Wise, Jr. Davon Godchaux and Lawrence Guy continue to set the tone for New England’s defensive front.