“Wait, you guys gave up HOW many points and yards already this season?”
-The New Orleans Saints, probably
In a pretty stark contrast to the 2016 Patriots defense, this year’s Patriots team has not only been getting worked in between the 20s, they’re sitting in the bottom third of the league when it comes to red zone points allowed. And that’s not even counting all the times the Pats have gotten scored on this year from far, far away from the red zone, with the two biggest backbreakers from the Kansas City game to Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt still fresh in our heads even as the team sits (barely) at 2-1.
So, that said, normally doubling your snap count in Week 3 and playing more snaps than in both Week 1 and Week 2 combined would be enough to get any player excited for the next game.
It’s safe to assume that when the above scenario is referring to 10-year New York Jets ironman linebacker David Harris, he’s not celebrating playing 4 total snaps on Sunday, which brings his total on the season to 7.
And those are all defensive snaps, too - according to Pro Football Reference, Harris hasn’t logged a single snap on special teams this season either. So his game-by-game splits are what they sound like - 2 snaps on defense against the Chiefs, 1 against the Saints, and 4 against the Texans.
The real kick below the belt here if you were hoping for Harris to be even a useful role-player (read: first-and-second-down brick wall up the middle) is that if there was a game where he could’ve put himself on the board, based on the game plan, it was this week against the Texans. Compared to their defense the last two weeks, the Patriots were back in a couple looks they’ve had some fun with over the past couple seasons - either a 5-2 or a 3-4 formation on defense, depending on how you like to look at it. Add in the part where the coaching staff is clearly leaving Dont’a Hightower in the cold tub until he’s 100% ready, and this seemed like a good shot for Harris to chip in.
Instead, we saw the newly rich Kyle Van Noy play every single snap on defense, our favorite pint-sized cannonball Elandon Roberts played 80.3%, and other than that, barely any other linebackers sniffed the field, as the Patriots rolled out all three of their starting safeties for serious playing time. Devin McCourty, who I feel like we’ve watched get seriously burned at least once every week so far this year, played 100% of the defensive snaps as usual, Patrick Chung played 73.2%, and Duron Harmon wasn’t far behind at 70.4%.
And, on paper at least, one of the only really logical explanations for Harris riding the pine so much is that Bill and Matty P are dead set on playing Van Noy, Roberts, and other new guys like Cassius Marsh (who’s hopped right into the mix pretty much immediately, playing 43.7% of the team’s defensive snaps against Houston). If the plan is to play the younger guys so they know the defense in their sleep by the time they need to be playing Patriots December football, hey, according to the Bill Simmons rule that you can’t complain about your team within 5 years of them winning a championship, we can surely deal with that.
The other, and somewhat more depressing possibility for Harris, is that he was brought in for depth and pretty much only depth, lest New England find themselves in another “Oh geez, Jerod Mayo is out for the year again” situation. Despite his Pro Football Focus grades from last year being pretty average at best and still ranking as one of the better-tackling linebackers out there, it still took New England almost two months after the draft to sign Harris. That draft, of course, was where the Patriots took a look at their roster, decided to flip their first-round pick, checked out a bunch of first-round prospects like Vanderbilt’s star middle linebacker Zac Cunningham, and ended up only taking 4 players...and none of them were linebackers. Maybe that’s more telling in a deep draft than anything we had cooked up in our minds about Harris and Hightower up the middle after all.