The Patriots shortened the bench for Sunday’s AFC Championship Game on the offensive side of the ball. In all, only 16 Patriot players saw the field on offense, and running back Rex Burkhead and wide receiver Phillip Dorsett played limited roles only seeing the field for three snaps each.
Entering Sunday’s game, one of the major matchup talking points was which personnel packages the Patriots would go with against the stingy Jaguars defense? There was statistical proof that heavier packages involving an extra tight end or fullback gave the Patriots a strategic advantage over the Jaguars.
The injury to Rob Gronkowski may have forced the Pats away from some of the two tight end sets they had planned for Sunday, but their usage of fullback James Develin, especially early on in the game, was notable.
Develin only played 15 snaps in the game, but the Patriots were able to keep the Jaguars defense off-balance by flexing Develin out wide in a spot traditionally occupied by a wide receiver.
What this allowed the Patriots to do was keep the Jaguars in their base defense while still spreading out the formation, and if the Jaguars brought an extra defensive back on the field, then Tom Brady could audible at the line of scrimmage into a traditional fullback look with two players in the backfield.
The Patriots were in 11-personnel (three wide receivers) 74.1% of the time on offense and averaged 5.6 yards per play in that grouping, according to fellow Pulpiteer Brian Phillips. But they averaged nearly nine yards per play (8.8) the 17.2% of the time they were in 21-personnel with James Develin on the field.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots loaded up on the line of scrimmage to stop the Jaguars’ running game and running back Leonard Fournette. In fact, there were long stretches of this game where the Patriots were primarily in a goal-line defense, daring Jags quarterback Blake Bortles to beat them through the air.
As you might expect, with the run defense being a top priority defensive tackles Malcom Brown and Lawrence Guy saw an increase in playing time, as well as run-stopping linebacker Elandon Roberts. The 58 snaps for defensive tackle Lawrence Guy were a season-high, and Brown’s 58 snaps were his second-most in a game this season. And Roberts played 52 snaps after playing just 20 against the Titans in the Divisional Round.
However, the unsung hero of the Patriots’ defense on Sunday, and maybe of the last few seasons, was safety Patrick Chung. Chung doesn’t get the recognition around the league like the more decorated players of his ilk, but his formation flexibility makes him one of the most essential Patriot defenders.
In Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, Chung lined up all over the defense, logging snaps at linebacker, slot corner, edge defender, outside cornerback, and safety, which is something that he has done all season. Despite being listed as a safety, Chung essentially played linebacker for a majority of Sunday’s AFC Championship Game.
In fact, 31 of Chung’s 74 snaps came with him playing linebacker, and he logged eight more snaps as an edge defender. Chung’s ability to play different roles in the Patriots defense, and play well in coverage and against the run, allows the Pats to keep his athleticism on the field while still loading up to stop the opponents rushing attack.
You will hear a lot about Eagles Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins over the next two weeks, who’s similarly a swiss army knife in the Philly secondary, but Chung deserves a seat at the table of the elite hybrid safety/linebackers that have taken over the NFL in recent seasons.