The New England Patriots played one of their best games of the season against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. On the way to their 24-10 victory all but one player on the 46-man game day roster — backup quarterback Brian Hoyer — saw action and contributed to the team’s ninth win of the season. Let’s take a look at how exactly the snap count numbers from the contest looked like:
J.C. Jackson was the number three cornerback
The Patriots secondary had a fantastic day against a talented Vikings receiving corps and one reason for that was the play of J.C. Jackson. The undrafted rookie served as New England’s third cornerback and played 54 of a possible 61 snaps in this role (89%), mostly covering the likes of Aldrick Robinson and even Adam Thielen — Jackson mostly held his ground no matter who he faced off against. The 23-year old is quickly developing into a valuable rotational option alongside top boundary corners Stephon Gilmore (61; 100%) and Jason McCourty (61; 100%).
New England used all four of its safeties
Jackson filling the number three role over slot cornerback Jonathan Jones (2 of 61; 3%) was not the only notable development: the Patriots also used the entire depth of its safety depth chart (sans special teamer Nate Ebner) to confuse the Minnesota offense — a plan that worked well. Devin McCourty (61; 100%) played his usual high number of snaps, while Patrick Chung (52; 85%) was used more in a rotation alongside Duron Harmon (33; 54%) and Obi Melifonwu (12; 20%). It will be particularly interesting to find out how the coaches opt to use Melifonwu moving forward: having him available as another safety/linebacker hybrid could tremendously help the defense against tight ends and running backs.
Rex Burkhead had a busy day coming off injured reserve...
After suffering a neck injury in week three, Rex Burkhead was placed on injured reserve. On November 8, New England designated him to return off the list and last week he did just that. Yesterday, the second-year Patriot played his first game in more than two months and the team did not ease him back into the action: the 28-year old played 17 of 74 snaps on offense (23%) and touched the football nine times for 41 yards. Burkhead also played four snaps on special teams (of 25; 16%).
...as the offensive backfield used all of its depth
While Burkhead saw considerable playing time, he actually was the least-used member of the Patriots’ offensive backfield. Fullback James Develin, who had a standout performance, led the team’s backs with 35 snaps (of 74; 47%). Meanwhile, running backs James White (33; 45%) and Sony Michel (30; 41%) were rotated in and out of the lineup. The depth of the Patriots’ backfield was on display all game long — as was its quality: the four men combined for 45 touches for 243 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots’ defensive edge rotation worked well
One of the recurring themes of New England’s defense the last few weeks was the heavy usage of Trey Flowers. Yesterday, however, he received a comparatively light workload: the 25-year old was on the field for 48 of 61 snaps (79%) — his lowest playing time share since week six and something that can be seen as a positive development; the Patriots need to make sure to have Flowers at full strength come the postseason. Meanwhile, Adrian Clayborn (24; 39%), John Simon (22; 36%) and Deatrich Wise Jr. (17; 28%) also were used along the defensive edge alongside Flowers.
9 players were on the field for 100% of the snaps
Five offensive players were on the field for all 74 of the unit’s snaps: quarterback Tom Brady and four of five offensive linemen — all starters but left tackle Trent Brown, who missed two snaps for a quick trip to the blue medical tent. On the defensive side of the football, four players did not leave the field: the aforementioned McCourty brothers and Stephon Gilmore as well as linebacker Kyle Van Noy played all 61 snaps. Other players to see plenty of action are tight end Rob Gronkowski (73; 99%) and linebacker Dont’a Hightower (59; 97%).