Entering the 2020 season, the New England Patriots had a long list of candidates to potentially make a significant second-year jump. Right at the top, based on contributions during his rookie campaign, was outside linebacker Chase Winovich.
His early performance certainly strengthened this belief, with the former third-round draft pick playing 65.8 percent of New England’s defensive snaps over the first four weeks of the regular season. Along the way, Winovich registered two-and-a-half sacks while also leading the team in combined quarterback disruptions. He was, by all accounts, pretty good as a starter-level option on the defensive edge.
Then came the Patriots’ Week 5 bye, however. Over the three games since, Winovich’s playing time share has shrunk significantly from the aforementioned 65.8 percent down to 21.3. It all culminated in the game against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, when the 25-year-old was on the field for a career-low five snaps on defense.
Something undoubtably has to give, but New England’s coaching staff did pull the breaks on any speculation this week.
“Yeah, just been situational,” said head coach Bill Belichick during a media conference call on Monday. “He’ll play. He’s a good player. He’ll play. Just some weekly decisions based on game plans and so forth.”
At least over the last three weeks, Winovich did not play, though, at least on the same exposure levels that he saw over the first four weeks of the season. For example, practice squad call-up Tashawn Bower out-snapped him pretty clearly by being on the field for 19 snaps. Bower did have some positive moments manning the outside linebacker position opposite John Simon, but so did Winovich as well earlier during the season.
Belichick, however, does not see any issues with the sophomore despite his recent lack of opportunities.
“There are no issues with Chase. Chase is a good player, and he’ll play. Some of it’s scheme-related and situation-related. But Chase is a good player, and I’m sure he’ll play,” he reiterated during an appearance on WEEI’s Ordway, Merloni & Fauria show. “Some of it’s based on our opponent and the game-plan, some of it’s situation-based in terms of score and situations in the game, and what we anticipated. And sometimes it doesn’t work out that way.”
New England’s head coach was not the only one trying to calm speculation about the fan favorite. Winovich’s position coach, Steve Belichick, also did so during a conference call on Tuesday.
“Chase is doing a good job,” the younger Belichick said. “He continues to improve. He’s a young player that has a lot of good skills. We’ve just got to do the right thing for the team and for the game plan, which applies to all the players on the roster and getting them in the spots we want to succeed.”
Belichick, who is in his first year coaching the Patriots’ outside linebackers, also pointed out that there were no mistakes made by Winovich that have kept him off the field.
“No, definitely not. Chase is willing to do anything we ask of him. He’s all about the team, very unselfish guy. He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Winovich, who was used more as a situational pass rusher than an all-around edge linebacker over the last three weeks, will get his next chance to increase his playing time share on Monday night. The Patriots will travel to New Jersey to take on the Jets, with the defensive game plan probably again revolving around confusing quarterback Sam Darnold with exotic looks and blitz packages.
Regardless of the last few weeks, Winovich should play a bigger role in this one.