The New England Patriots defeated the Houston Texans 27-20 in the season opener and the game offered us our first glance at how Bill Belichick and the coaching staff truly values their players. There will be more fiddling with the roster over the coming weeks, of course, but the regular season offers much more insight on the depth chart than the preseason.
Here’s what we learned.
What’s the plan with Cordarrelle Patterson?
Patterson played a mere 16 snaps on offense, which sounds low given his 3 rushing attempts for 13 yards and 1 reception for 6 yards. It’s clear that the Patriots have a special section of their playbook for Patterson if he’s going to see a touch on 25% of his snaps, so perhaps he’s still just working his way into the offense.
But slot receiver Riley McCarron played 15 snaps. Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett played 68 and 57 snaps, respectively. Perhaps Patterson will eat into McCarron’s playing time, but barring any change over the next few weeks, we can consider Patterson a small part of the Patriots offense once Julian Edelman returns, especially given the growth of Dorsett.
LaAdrian Waddle rotated with Marcus Cannon
While Trent Brown, Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason played 100% of the offensive snaps (75 snaps)- as did Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady- the Patriots rotated at right tackle.
Cannon played 61% of the snaps while Waddle played 39%. I would expect the ratio to shift more in favor of Cannon in week 2 and wouldn’t be surprised if he played 100% of the snaps against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Cannon is returning from injury and his playing time was being monitored.
Ja’Whaun Bentley led the Patriots linebackers in snaps
The Patriots used a heavy rotation in their defensive front seven and their star rookie seemed to take the lead. Bentley played 51 defensive snaps (and 15 special teams snaps), ahead of Dont’a Hightower (50 snaps) and Kyle Van Noy (49 snaps). Elandon Roberts played 20 snaps and Nicholas Grigsby only played 1 snap.
Bentley played at an extremely high level so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he continued to siphon snaps away from Roberts and joined Hightower and Van Noy as the starters all year.
Adrian Clayborn is at the bottom of the pass rushing rotation
The Patriots used a four-man edge defender rotation and I was surprised to see veteran signing Adrian Clayborn at the bottom of the list. Trey Flowers led the way with 50 snaps, followed by Keionta Davis (35 snaps), Deatrich Wise (23 snaps), and then Clayborn (22 snaps).
Part of the reason was Flowers moving around the defensive line and freeing up snaps for Davis, with Clayborn more commonly used on the right side of the line. I would expect Clayborn to play more in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Danny Shelton led the defensive tackles in snaps (40), followed by Malcom Brown (32), Lawrence Guy (29), and Adam Butler (24). I expect this to be the result of an equal drive rotation where Shelton simply just played against elongated drives.
Jonathan Jones is baaaaaaack
I feel like the return of Jones was lost in the shuffle of the offseason, but he was absolutely lights out as the slot defensive back on Sunday. Jones played 38 snaps, trailing the starting quartet of Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe at cornerback (74 snaps) and Patrick Chung (73) and Devin McCourty (72) at safety, along with Duron Harmon (50) as the nickel.
Jones played ahead of Jason McCourty (6) and I will be curious to see how these players rotate, if at all, for the rest of the year.