For the third game in a row, the New England Patriots came up short. Well, in fairness, short is a rather generous term for their performance against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday: the team was blown out 33-6 while getting dominated on both sides of the ball and never seriously threatening its opponent. It was a bad day from start to finish, and one that left the Patriots with more questions than answers.
With all that being said, though, let’s take a look at how New England opted to use the talent on its roster versus San Francisco.
Total snaps: 52
G Shaq Mason (52; 100%), OT Isaiah Wynn (52; 100%), G/OT Michael Onwenu (52; 100%), C David Andrews (52; 100%), WR Damiere Byrd (48; 92%), WR Jakobi Meyers (41; 79%), QB Cam Newton (32; 62%), WR Julian Edelman (31; 60%), RB Rex Burkhead (25; 48%), G Joe Thuney (25; 48%), TE Dalton Keene (24; 46%), TE Ryan Izzo (23; 44%), FB Jakob Johnson (21; 40%), RB Damien Harris (21; 40%), QB Jarrett Stidham (20; 38%), G Hjalte Froholdt (16; 31%), OT Justin Herron (12; 23%), WR N’Keal Harry (11; 21%), RB James White (10; 19%), WR Gunner Olszewski (4; 8%)
David Andrews and Shaq Mason returning helped solidify the Patriots’ offensive line against the 49ers, at least initially: Joe Thuney hurting his ankle in the early third quarter — one that is not considered to be a major issue — forced the unit to reshuffle once again: Michael Onwenu moved back from right tackle to left guard, with Justin Herron stepping into the open spot. Just 12 snaps and a Herron ankle injury later, Onwenu was back at right tackle with Hjalte Froholdt taking over the left guard spot.
The rest of New England’s offense also saw some rather consistent personnel movement, most notably at quarterback: with the game out of hand in the fourth quarter, Cam Newton was benched after throwing his third interception in favor of Jarrett Stidham — the second time in the last three games that Stidham took over for an ineffective starter, and the second time that he did not fare much better than the man that he replaced.
Elsewhere, the Patriots also saw some changes: Jakobi Meyers took over the number two receiver role after N’Keal Harry suffered a game-ending head injury, while Dalton Keene made his NFL debut and actually finished with a higher playing-time share than starting tight end Ryan Izzo — the first time that another tight end has out-snapped Izzo this season. At running back, meanwhile, the limited usage of James White raises some questions given the offense’s general struggles all day.
Total snaps: 66
S Devin McCourty (66; 100%), CB Stephon Gilmore (66; 100%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (56; 85%), S Adrian Phillips (55; 83%), LB Anfernee Jennings (53; 80%), LB John Simon (49; 74%), CB Jason McCourty (44; 67%), DT Byron Cowart (42; 64%), DT Lawrence Guy (41; 62%), CB Jonathan Jones (38; 58%), CB J.C. Jackson (33; 50%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (30; 45%), LB Shilique Calhoun (28; 42%), S Terrence Brooks (27; 41%), LB Tashawn Bower (27; 41%), DT Nick Thurman (23; 35%), LB Chase Winovich (13; 20%), DT Adam Butler (13; 20%), LB Brandon Copeland (11; 17%), LB Derek Rivers (10; 15%)
After playing a season-low 34 percent of snaps last week, Chase Winovich was on the field for only 13 of 66 on Sunday against the 49ers. For comparison, practice squad call-up Tashawn Bower played more than half of Winovich’s snaps despite the former having proven himself as a starting caliber outside linebacker before the Patriots’ bye week. While the run-first offenses New England faced the last two weeks could be an explanation for his comparatively small role, the situation is still curious given how good he looked earlier.
While one linebacker saw limited action, another was featured prominently: third-round draft selection Anfernee Jennings played a career-high 53 snaps as the number two off-the-ball linebacker next to Ja’Whaun Bentley. While the rookie had some ups and downs, seeing him get an extended look is still a positive development and a possible indication about how the coaching staff is seeing his role within the defense.
What also stands out is the use of the team’s defensive tackles. With Lawrence Guy missing some snaps due to a leg injury, Byron Cowart led the position group with 42 snaps. While Guy and Nick Thurman chipped in 41 and 23, respectively, the team’s other starting interior lineman was on the field for only 13 snaps: Adam Butler was limited in practice all of last week due to a shoulder ailment, and the team decided to give him a relatively light workload on Sunday.
Total snaps: 21
CB Justin Bethel (19; 90%), WR Matthew Slater (19; 90%), LB John Simon (15; 71%), LB Shilique Calhoun (14; 67%), RB Rex Burkhead (13; 62%), S Terrence Brooks (12; 57%), WR Gunner Olszewski (11; 52%), LB Chase Winovich (11; 52%), LB Brandon Copeland (11; 52%), CB Joejuan Williams (11; 52%), FB Jakob Johnson (10; 48%), CB Jonathan Jones (10; 48%), LB Cassh Maluia (9; 43%), TE Dalton Keene (7; 33%), DT Lawrence Guy (7; 33%), P Jake Bailey (7; 33%), S Devin McCourty (6; 29%), S Adrian Phillips (6; 29%), LB Anfernee Jennings (6; 29%), DT Byron Cowart (6; 29%), LS Joe Cardona (4; 19%), G Shaq Mason (2; 10%), OT Isaiah Wynn (2; 10%), G/OT Michael Onwenu (2; 10%), G Joe Thuney (2; 10%), G Hjalte Froholdt (2; 10%), OT Justin Heron (2; 10%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (2; 10%), K Nick Folk (2; 10%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (1; 5%)
The Patriots used 30 different players on special teams, with seven of them being employed exclusively in the game’s third phase: the three specialists — Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona and Nick Folk — were joined by Justin Bethel, Matthew Slater, Joejuan Williams and Cassh Maluia.
Williams’ usage again stands out. The former second-round draft pick saw no defensive action last week against the Denver Broncos as well, and did also not crack the cornerback rotation versus San Francisco. This is especially curious considering that the 49ers are fielding arguably the game’s best tight end, George Kittle, and that New England’s defense was without injured box safety/tight end defender Kyle Dugger.
Did not play
OT Korey Cunningham
With backup quarterback Jarrett Stidham getting inserted into the lineup late in the game, only one player did not see the field: offensive tackle Korey Cunningham remained on the sidelines even after Justin Herron suffered an ankle injury. Instead of turning to him, the Patriots moved Michael Onwenu from left guard to right tackle again and inserted Hjalte Froholdt into the vacant spot on the interior.
QB Brian Hoyer, S Kyle Dugger, CB/S Myles Bryant, RB J.J. Taylor, TE Devin Asiasi, DT Carl Davis
Only two of the Patriots’ inactives missed the game because of injury: Carl Davis was already ruled out on Friday due to a concussion, with Kyle Dugger joining him on Sunday because of a ankle injury that limited him all week in practice. The most notable name among the four healthy scratches, meanwhile, is Devin Asiasi who served as New England’s number two tight end over the first five games of the season.