New England Patriots ED Jabaal Sheard was a healthy scratch in week 11 against the 49ers, but his role had decreased in prior weeks due to inconsistency. After playing roughly 75% of the snaps over the first six weeks, Sheard didn’t make the stat sheet against the Steelers in week 7. After the bye week, Sheard was relegated to the bench where he played just 23% of the snaps against the Seahawks. He failed to make the stat sheet for the second time.
After Sheard was given time off against the 49ers, he’s slowly seen his playing time increase over the subsequent weeks. He played 44% of the snaps against the Jets and then 55% of the snaps against the 49ers, racking up 8 tackles, 3 passes defended, and a quarterback hit.
“We know he can rush the passer,” head coach Bill Belichick said about Sheard on Monday after the Rams game. “The coverage plays were pretty impressive. It could be a season for a defensive lineman with the number of balls he had his hands on. Yeah, very impressive awareness and getting depth to get into the passing lanes, playing the ball. It was great.
“When you drop defensive linemen into coverage you generally don’t get a lot of production from them in coverage. They take up some space and kind of I’d say usually the quarterback doesn’t want to throw the ball in the area where somebody’s standing there but in terms of making plays on the ball they don’t generally make a lot of them.
“So that was a great job by Jabaal yesterday. He rushed well, he played the run well. He’s had a couple of good weeks here so it’s good to see him string them together.”
Sheard is still the 4th edge defender in the rotation, with Trey Flowers leading the pack with 69 snaps over the past two weeks, and with Rob Ninkovich and Chris Long both playing 60 snaps. But Sheard’s 53 snaps have been extremely productive and he’s quickly earning his time back- and all four players seem more effective in this balanced rotation.
Sheard was once viewed as a priority free agent for the Patriots, but his star has fallen in recent weeks. There are four more weeks in the regular season for Sheard to rebuild his reputation, and then the playoffs to perform on a major stage. Any development by Sheard will only serve to help the Patriots when the games matter most.