While a win was needed to hold onto the number one playoff seed in the AFC for now, the New England Patriots came out flat against the Houston Texans and eventually lost with a final score of 28-22. As a look at the playing time shows, however, the reigning world champions were not at full strength: numerous players were on the field for a smaller playing time share than they would receive under normal circumstances.
The team did unsurprisingly not offer this narrative as an excuse for its performance, as cornerback Stephon Gilmore pointed out in the locker room after the contest: “No excuses. We still were out there playing the game. We’ve still got to execute our game plan. Things happen. You’ve got to be able to overcome it and play good football.”
However, it would be naive to think it did not at least have some impact on the eventual outcome — even though execution itself was the far bigger problem. With that all being said, let’s dig a little deeper into the snap count numbers from Sunday night’s game to get an impression of how the Patriots used their players.
Total snaps: 87
OG Shaq Mason (87; 100%), OG Joe Thuney (87; 100%), OT Isaiah Wynn (87; 100%), QB Tom Brady (87; 100%), OT Marcus Cannon (82; 94%), WR Julian Edelman (80; 92%), RB James White (68; 78%), WR Phillip Dorsett II (62; 71%), WR Jakobi Meyers (61; 70%), TE Matt LaCosse (53; 61%), TE Benjamin Watson (47; 54%), OC James Ferentz (44; 51%), OC Ted Karras (43; 49%), WR N’Keal Harry (22; 25%), WR Mohamed Sanu (19; 22%), RB Sony Michel (15; 17%), OT Marshall Newhouse (5; 6%), RB Rex Burkhead (4; 5%), LB Elandon Roberts (3: 3%), RB Brandon Bolden (1; 1%)
New England’s offense entered the game at full strength on paper, but the snap count numbers tell a different story. Mohamed Sanu, for example, was on the field for just 19 of a possible 87 snaps in his return to the field: he had missed last Sunday’s game because of an ankle injury suffered the week before, and was clearly still bothered. His low playing time — he was the Patriots’ number two wide receiver before the injury — is more proof of that.
As a result of Sanu’s injury status, undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers was thrown into the third receiver role and had another solid but inconsistent game. However, he did get considerably more action than first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry: the 32nd overall selection of this year’s draft played 12 snaps on the Patriots’ opening series but was on the field for just 10 more after a third down pass intended for him was intercepted on the very next drive.
Meanwhile, the Patriots also had to see some more movement along their offensive line: right tackle Marcus Cannon, one of numerous players that was limited with an illness over the course of the week, had to leave the game for five snaps in the early third quarter after getting an IV; starting center Ted Karras hurt his knee later during the same period and was replaced in the lineup by veteran backup James Ferentz.
New England also saw some more movement at the skill positions:
- With the Patriots falling behind and needing to pass their way out of their 28-9 hole at one point, James White took over the role as the number one running back in terms of playing time
- For the first time all year, Matt LaCosse (53) saw more snaps than Benjamin Watson (47). The tight ends were again a limited factor in the passing game, but LaCosse was able to get open comparatively often despite finishing with only one 24-yard catch.
Total snaps: 56
FS Devin McCourty (56; 100%), CB J.C. Jackson (56; 100%), CB Stephon Gilmore (56; 100%), SS Patrick Chung (54; 96%), LB Dont’a Hightower (50; 89%), LB Kyle Van Noy (40; 71%), DT Lawrence Guy (36; 64%), DT Danny Shelton (36; 64%), LB John Simon (34; 61%), CB Jonathan Jones (32; 57%), LB Jamie Collins Sr. (31; 55%), SS Duron Harmon (27; 48%), LB Chase Winovich (22; 39%), DT Adam Butler (20; 36%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (19; 34%), LB Shilique Calhoun (17; 30%), LB Elandon Roberts (13; 13%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (12; 21%), SS Terrence Brooks (5; 9%)
The Patriots did not only miss starting perimeter cornerback Jason McCourty for the second straight week because of a groin injury, they also had to manage the snap numbers for two of their top-three linebackers: Kyle Van Noy, who is usually on the field for close to 100% of the defensive snaps, played only 40 of a possible 56 against the Texans; Jamie Collins played just 31. Both players, of course, were questionable entering the game because of an illness.
In the secondary, meanwhile, Devin McCourty and Stephon Gilmore went wire-to-wire alongside J.C. Jackson, with Patrick Chung playing all but two defensive snaps. With the exception of Jackson, the starting defensive backfield also had to deal with an illness this week even though it did eventually not impact the group’s playing time share compared to other games: it did play its normal high number of snaps.
Also seeing considerable action were defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton again. The two big-bodied interior linemen were both on the field for 36 snaps — a heavy workload for two players listed at 315 and 345 pounds, respectively. Their ability to perform well under such physical pressure speaks not just for their athletic skills, but also for New England’s strength and conditioning team headed by assistant coaches Moses Cabrera and Deron Mayo.
Total snaps: 26
RB Brandon Bolden (23; 88%), CB Justin Bethel (23; 88%), SS Nate Ebner (23; 88%), WR Matthew Slater (19; 73%), RB Rex Burkhead (17; 65%), LB Chase Winovich (14; 54%), LB John Simon (13; 50%), LB Jamie Collins Sr. (12; 46%), LB Shilique Calhoun (12; 46%), P Jake Bailey (12; 46%), DT Lawrence Guy (10; 38%), CB Joejuan Williams (10; 38%), FS Devin McCourty (9; 35%), CB Jonathan Jones (8; 31%), LB Dont’a Hightower (7; 27%), DT Danny Shelton (7; 27%), DT Adam Butler (7; 27%), LS Joe Cardona (7; 27%), LB Elandon Roberts (6; 23%), RB James White (5; 19%), CB J.C. Jackson (5; 19%), SS Terrence Brooks (5; 19%), WR Mohamed Sanu (4; 15%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (4; 15%), OG Shaq Mason (3; 12%), OT Marcus Cannon (3; 12%), OC James Ferentz (3; 12%), OT Marshall Newhouse (3; 12%), K Kai Forbath (3; 12%), OG Joe Thuney (2; 8%), WR N’Keal Harry (2; 8%), RB Sony Michel (2; 8%), FS Duron Harmon (2; 8%), OC Ted Karras (1; 4%)
34 of the Patriots’ 46 active players saw action in the kicking game, with seven playing exclusively in the game’s third phase: the three specialists — punter/kickoff specialist Jake Bailey, long snapper Joe Cardona and place kicker Kai Forbath — as well as defensive backs Justin Bethel, Nate Ebner and Joejuan Williams, and wide receiver Matthew Slater. Bethel and Ebner led the special teams units in playing time for another week, tied with Brandon Bolden this time around.
With Slater seeing his only snaps in the kicking game, the Patriots had only one three-way player on Sunday: linebacker Elandon Roberts again served as a fullback, defender, and on kickoff return and coverage units.
Did not play
QB Jarrett Stidham
With the Patriots playing another close game, backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham had to stay on the bench throughout the contest. The fourth-round rookie has been on the 46-man game day roster for all 12 of the team’s games so far this season, but has seen the field just three times for a combined 15 offensive snaps.
OT Korey Cunningham, QB Cody Kessler, RB Damien Harris, OG Jermaine Eluemunor, CB Jason McCourty, DT Byron Cowart, TE Ryan Izzo
Despite having 18 players listed on their final injury report of the week, the Patriots had to deactivate only one of their starting-caliber players: cornerback Jason McCourty had to miss his second straight game because of a groin injury. The rest of New England’s inactives are little more than depth options at this point in time.