Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones looks close to returning to the field. The question remains: where does he fit in?
Bill Belichick, the General Manager, acquired Akeem Ayers in the middle of the season and Ayers has become a focal point on the defense. He's versatile, he's athletic, he's strong- he can do it all. He's a player that deserves to be on the field. So where does Ayers go when Jones returns?
When looking at Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones' snap usage in 2013, it's clear that their #1 and #2 rankings were entirely unsustainable into the future. Ninkovich is currently in second place again. Jones has missed the past six weeks.
In fact, it's a good thing that the Patriots have a player like Ayers who deserves to be on the field. A rotation makes infinitely more sense than just a set pair of defensive ends; it keeps players fresher, and their various skill sets allow for the Patriots defense to be more versatile.
No one pass rushes like Chandler. No one covers like Ayers. No one stops the run (or at least used to stop the run) like Ninkovich. Put them all together and you have pairings for all offensive packages.
If we look at the top pass rushers over the past few seasons, they average roughly 80% of their team's snaps. 3-4 outside linebackers are typically the only players who break the 90% mark; players like Robert Mathis, Greg Hardy, Michael Bennett, and Cameron Wake all ranked between 55-85%. It's quite a range.
The reigning champion Seahawks used a defensive rotation to their advantage, with their three defensive ends all playing for 56-62% of the defensive snaps (it should be noted that the Seahawks sometimes play a hybrid front, with a 3-4 defensive end on one side, and a 4-3 set up on the other). The Patriots could play a similar rotation, especially with Chandler Jones' ability to play inside on passing downs- and the fact that Ninkovich is playing like he needs a breather.
If the Patriots can develop a rotation with Jones, Ninkovich, and Ayers, it's likely that the defense will remain more effective and perform at a higher level throughout the game.