The Patriots backfield had another shakeup of sorts against the Chargers as running back Rex Burkhead played a season-high 26 snaps.
The Patriots went with a vintage running-back-by-committee approach once again in Week 8, as all four running backs touched the ball at least six teams, with Gillislee, Burkhead, and Lewis tallying at least 11 touches apiece.
However, it was Burkhead that stood out. Not only due to his season-high snap output, but also because of his season-high 11 touches and 83 scrimmage yards, which mainly came through the air (7 catches, 68 yards).
For the second week in a row, the Patriots’ running backs carried the load offensively, tallying 258 of the team’s 430 scrimmage yards on offense.
There were also some notable injury takeaways from this one, including right tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle) and wide receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder). Cannon exited the game in the second quarter and did not return, logging 35 of the teams 86 snaps at right tackle.
It was swing-tackle LaAdrian Waddle that took over for Cannon, as Waddle played the Patriots’ final 51 snaps on offense at Cannon’s right tackle spot. Waddle struggled at times against the Chargers’ pass rush, ultimately allowing five total pressures, but all five were quarterback hurries, as he didn’t allow a hit on quarterback Tom Brady.
As for Hogan, he played most of the game before leaving with a shoulder injury in the fourth quarter. Losing Hogan would be a big blow to an offense that has already suffered a number of injuries at the wide receiver position.
The Patriots only used 17 players on defense due to a number of injuries to big-time players such as Dont’a Hightower, Malcom Brown, Stephone Gilmore, and Eric Rowe.
In Gilmore’s absence, it was Johnson Bademosi that manned the cornerback spot opposite of Malcolm Butler once again. However, unlike the last two weeks, the Chargers made it a point to target Bademosi, which ultimately led to the special teams ace having his worst statistical performance of the season.
Bademosi was targeted a season-high eight times, allowing five receptions for 66 yards, which is still a respectable day for a backup defensive back.
As for replacing Hightower, as you’d expect the Patriots used a number of different players to replace their irreplaceable linebacker. Elandon Roberts returned after an ankle injury kept him out of last week’s tilt against the Falcons, and played his second-most snaps in a game this season (40 snaps).
Veteran linebacker David Harris, who played just seven snaps in the first six weeks, saw an uptick in playing time once again after playing a season-high 19 snaps a week ago. Harris made a few impact plays both against the run and rushing the passer, and was especially effective as a blitzer, a role that Hightower has mastered over the years.
The Patriots began the game with Cassius Marsh manning Hightower’s strong-side edge position, but after Melvin Gordon’s 87-yard touchdown run he was relegated to the bench. Marsh’s assignment on that play was to set the edge on the side of the field that Gordon ran to, but Marsh made a subpar effort setting the edge on the play, which led to the big opening for Gordon.
After Marsh was benched, the Patriots turned to Kyle Van Noy as their strong-side linebacker for the most part, and Van Noy stopped the well from breaking completely.
Whether you think it’s legitimate or not, the Patriots defense has statistically turned a corner over the last four weeks. Here are their splits from the last four games of the season vs the first four games of 2017:
There’s still room for improvement but this unit has recovered nicely after a disastrous start to 2017.