The New England Patriots’ return to the field after their surprisingly early bye last weekend was not exactly a glorious one: the team struggled for much of the game against the Denver Broncos, and saw a fourth quarter comeback attempt fall short to lose a defensively-dominated affair with a final score of 18-12. Now at 2-3, the Patriots need a quick turnaround in order to get back to the win column and stay competitive in the race for the AFC East.
With all that being said, though, let’s take a look at how the Patriots opted to use their players versus Denver on Sunday.
Total snaps: 57
C Joe Thuney (57; 100%), OT/G Isaiah Wynn (57; 100%), G Michael Onwenu (57; 100%), OT Justin Herron (57; 100%), QB Cam Newton (57; 100%), WR Damiere Byrd (55; 96%), WR N’Keal Harry (51; 89%), G Hjalte Froholdt (45; 79%), WR Julian Edelman (43; 75%), TE Ryan Izzo (35; 61%), RB James White (31; 54%), TE Devin Asiasi (24; 42%), RB Rex Burkhead (18; 32%), OT Jermaine Eluemunor (12; 21%), RB Damien Harris (12; 21%), FB Jakob Johnson (11; 19%), WR Isaiah Zuber (5; 9%)
After missing the game against Kansas City two weeks ago, Cam Newton returned to the starting lineup as New England’s number one quarterback. His performance had its fair share of ups and downs — he completed 17 of 25 pass attempts for 157 yards and a pair of interceptions, and also gained 77 yards and a touchdown on nine rushing attempts — but seeing him out there after his positive Coronavirus diagnosis was an encouraging development to begin with.
Newton was one of five players not to leave the field for New England’s offense on Sunday. The others were all offensive linemen, even though the group saw some considerable turnover. After already losing David Andrews and Shaq Mason to injured reserve and the Covid-19 list, the team also saw starting right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor go down with an injury in the first quarter. This led to some shuffling up front — Isaiah Wynn returned to his original role of left tackle, Hjalte Froholdt was inserted at right guard for his first ever offensive snaps — and an inconsistent overall performance by the unit.
Speaking of inconsistency, the same goes for the skill positions. While Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry saw plenty of snaps at the wide receiver position, they combined to catch just three passes for 38 yards — all of which courtesy of Byrd. Julian Edelman played an equally limited role while once again serving as the number three in terms of playing time share, with Ryan Izzo remaining the top tight end ahead of third-round rookie Devin Asiasi.
Total snaps: 64
S Devin McCourty (64; 100%), CB Stephon Gilmore (64; 100%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (61; 95%), LB Shilique Calhoun (54; 84%), CB Jonathan Jones (54; 84%), LB John Simon (52; 81%), S Adrian Phillips (51; 80%), DT Lawrence Guy (49; 77%), CB J.C. Jackson (46; 72%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (38; 59%), CB Jason McCourty (31; 48%), LB Anfernee Jennings (28; 44%), S Kyle Dugger (27; 42%), LB Chase Winovich (22; 34%), DT Nick Thurman (20; 31%), DT Adam Butler (20; 31%), S Terrence Brooks (19; 30%), LB Rashod Berry (4; 6%)
Cam Newton was not the only Coronavirus case to return to the field against Denver: Stephon Gilmore was also back, 13 days after his initial diagnosis. While Gilmore had not missed any in-game time because of the virus, having him back is a good sign for a Patriots defense that once again relied heavily on his contributions as the number one cornerback — both in terms of assignment and playing time. He and Devin McCourty were the only defenders to play all 64 defensive snaps.
Also seeing some heavy action were Ja’Whaun Bentley as the number one off-the-ball linebacker, and Shilique Calhoun. After serving primarily as a rotational outside linebacker over the first four games of the season, Calhoun was used as the top option ahead of John Simon and Chase Winovich — the latter being on the field for just 22 defensive snaps. While there was no indication of injury, Winovich’s low output is something to keep an eye on after he was the team’s best front-seven defender before the bye and a difference maker against both the pass and the run.
The Patriots also had their rookie class play some snaps. Anfernee Jennings played a season-high 28, with Kyle Dugger chipping in 27 more. New England even saw some contributions from undrafted rookie free agent Rashod Berry: after being elevated from the practice squad, Berry played four defensive snaps on top of eight more in the kicking game.
Total snaps: 24
LB Brandon Copeland (22; 92%), CB Justin Bethel (22; 92%), WR Matthew Slater (22; 92%), S Kyle Dugger (18; 75%), LB John Simon (17; 71%), LB Shilique Calhoun (15; 62%), WR Gunner Olszewski (13; 54%), RB Rex Burkhead (12; 50%), CB Jonathan Jones (12; 50%), LB Cassh Maluia (12; 50%), CB Joejuan Williams (11; 46%), FB Jakob Johnson (9; 38%), S Adrian Phillips (9; 38%), DT Lawrence Guy (9; 38%), P Jake Bailey (9; 38%), LB Rashod Berry (8; 33%), S Terrence Brooks (7; 29%), S Devin McCourty (6; 25%), LB Anfernee Jennings (6; 25%), LS Joe Cardona (5; 21%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (3; 12%), LB Chase Winovich (3; 12%), C Joe Thuney (2; 8%), OT/G Isaiah Wynn (2; 8%), G Michael Onwenu (2; 8%), OT Justin Herron (2; 8%), G Hjalte Froholdt (2; 8%), K Nick Folk (2; 8%), OT Korey Cunningham (2; 8%)
New England used 29 different players on special teams against Denver, with 10 being employed exclusively in the game’s third phase. Among that group are also two players normally expected to see at least some action on offense and defense, respectively, as well: wide receiver Gunner Olszewski played all 13 of his snaps as the Patriots’ returnman, with former second-round draft pick Joejuan Williams seeing no action on defense as the team’s number five cornerback.
The rest of the core special teamers looked like it usual does — with Brandon Copeland, Justin Bethel and Matthew Slater rarely leaving the field. Shilique Calhoun, meanwhile, stands out once again due to his comparatively high playing time share. He was a valuable member of the Patriots in two phases on Sunday.
Did not play
QB Jarrett Stidham, WR Jakobi Meyers, OT Caleb Benenoch
With the game coming down to the wire, Jarrett Stidham did not see the field in his first game as Cam Newton’s primary backup quarteback. He was not alone, though, as wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and practice squad offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch also did not play even a single snap. Meyers’ inactivity is noteworthy considering that New England’s wide receivers struggled all day: even under those circumstances he did not get a chance.
CB Myles Bryant, DT Carl Davis, QB Brian Hoyer, TE Dalton Keene, RB J.J. Taylor
New England deactivated five players on Sunday, with all of them healthy scratches after not being listed on the injury report heading into the weekend. The biggest name among them might be Brian Hoyer: the veteran started the Patriots’ Week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, but was benched after turning the football over twice. Now, he has been relegated to third-string.