The New England Patriots’ 2020 season is off to a perfect start. The team played a solid overall game against the visiting Miami Dolphins to win with a final score of 21-11, and along the way saw contributions in all three phases of the game — an encouraging development for a team that saw considerable personnel turnover during the offseason, and had major question marks after the departures of previous cornerstone players such as Tom Brady, Marcus Cannon, Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Patrick Chung and Nate Ebner.
So, how did the team replace them and employ the men on its active roster? Let’s find out.
Total snaps: 64
Shaq Mason (64; 100%), Joe Thuney (64; 100%), OT Isaiah Wynn (64; 100%), C David Andrews (64; 100%), QB Cam Newton (64; 100%), TE Ryan Izzo (63; 98%), WR Damiere Byrd (56; 88%), WR N’Keal Harry (51; 80%), OT Jermaine Eluemunor (48; 75%), WR Julian Edelman (37; 58%), G/OT Michael Onwenu (22; 34%), FB Jakob Johnson (21; 33%), RB Rex Burkhead (19; 30%), RB James White (19; 30%), RB Sony Michel (19; 30%), TE Devin Asiasi (10; 16%), RB J.J. Taylor (9; 14%), WR Jakobi Meyers (7; 11%), OT Justin Herron (2; 3%), WR Matthew Slater (1; 2%)
Cam Newton’s first game as the Patriots’ starting quarterback saw the team focus on controlling the tempo of the game via the running game. The personnel usage reflects this approach. Not only did New England use a heavy dose of run-blocking personnel — Ryan Izzo, the current TE1, Michael Onwenu and Jakob Johnson all saw regular action — it also rotated its backs on a regular basis: Rex Burkhead, James White and Sony Michel all played 19 snaps, with undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor being on the field for another nine.
The wide receiver position also played its part in this. Damiere Byrd and N’Keal Harry saw considerable playing time as the one-two punch at the position, with Julian Edelman being used on a more rotational basis while being eased into the mix. The only other true wideout on the roster, Jakobi Meyers, was on the field for just seven snaps without being targeted in the passing game.
Last offseason, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pointed out that the offense should always reflect the strengths of the team. At this point in time, that strength is running the football with Newton and a deep backfield. Accordingly, the Patriots invested resources in the ground game versus Miami. The aforementioned Michael Onwenu might be the best example of this: he was used as a big-bodied rotational right tackle in place of Jermaine Eluemunor on 18 saps, and as a tackle eligible on four more.
Total snaps: 62
S Devin McCourty (61; 98%), CB Stephon Gilmore (59; 95%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (51; 82%), CB Jonathan Jones (46; 74%), CB J.C. Jackson (46; 74%), CB Jason McCourty (45; 73%), S Adrian Phillips (43; 69%), LB John Simon (42; 68%), LB Chase Winovich (42; 68%), DT Adam Butler (34; 55%), LB Shilique Calhoun (33; 53%), S Terrence Brooks (29; 47%), CB Joejuan Williams (27; 44%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (24; 39%), DT Lawrence Guy (22; 35%), DT Byron Cowart (21; 34%), LB Derek Rivers (20; 32%), S Kyle Dugger (11; 18%), DT Xavier Williams (9; 15%), LB Anfernee Jennings (9; 15%), LB Brandon Copeland (8; 13%)
After losing their top three off-the-ball linebackers during the offseason, the Patriots decided to turn to its defensive backfield to help fill the void. While Anfernee Jennings and Brandon Copeland both saw some action alongside Ja’Whaun Bentley — they placed nine and eight snaps, respectively — the team relied on safeties Adrian Phillips and Terrence Brooks to offer additional bodies in the box. Given the status of the position at the moment, it would not be a surprise to see this continued moving forward.
Up front, meanwhile, New England went with its usual rotation. While defensive tackle Adam Butler saw some heavy action by playing 34 of 62 defensive snaps, Lawrence Guy, Byron Cowart and practice squad call-up Xavier Jennings were used more situationally. Deatrich Wise Jr. also factored into the mix as a down-lineman.
The strength of the unit, however, remains the depth in its secondary. Not only were Phillips and Brooks regularly employed, New England’s top-four cornerbacks also played at least 73 percent of defensive snaps while Devin McCourty led the unit with a 98 percent playing time share. All season long, the Patriots will try to get as many defensive backs as possible onto the field to make up for shortcomings elsewhere and force teams to go up against possibly the best position group in all of football.
Total snaps: 18
WR Matthew Slater (14; 78%), LB Brandon Copeland (14; 78%), CB Justin Bethel (14; 78%), S Cody Davis (14; 78%), P Jake Bailey (11; 61%), FB Jakob Johnson (10; 56%), RB Rex Burkhead (9; 50%), LB John Simon (9; 50%), CB Joejuan Williams (8; 44%), S Kyle Dugger (8; 44%), S Adrian Phillips (7; 39%), DT Lawrence Guy (7; 39%), LS Joe Cardona (7; 39%), CB Jonathan Jones (5; 28%), G Shaq Mason (4; 22%), G Joe Thuney (4; 22%), OT Isaiah Wynn (4; 22%), OT Jermaine Eluemunor (4; 22%), G/OT Michael Onwenu (4; 22%), CB Jason McCourty (4; 22%), LB Shilique Calhoun (4; 22%), S Terrence Brooks (4; 22%), K Nick Folk (4; 22%), G Hjalte Froholdt (4; 22%), RB J.J. Taylor (3; 17%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (3; 17%), CB J.C. Jackson (3; 17%), LB Chase Winovich (3; 17%), DT Adam Butler (3; 17%), WR Damiere Byrd (2; 11%), WR Julian Edelman (1; 6%), S Devin McCourty (1; 6%), DT Byron Cowart (1; 6%), DT Xavier Williams (1; 6%)
As is standard in New England, a lot of players were used in the kicking game. All in all, 34 men saw snaps on special teams, with six of them being used exclusively in the game’s third phase: Justin Bethel, Cody Davis, the three specialists — Jake Bailey, Joe Cardona and Nick Folk — and second-year offensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt. The name that stands out is Cody Davis, who is filling Nate Ebner’s former role as the personal protector on punt teams and was used on all four return teams and the place kick blocking squad.
Also regularly used on special teams was Brandon Copeland. The first-year Patriot may not have seen plenty of action as an off-the-ball linebacker, but he was tied for the team lead with 14 kicking game snaps. Like Davis, he also saw action on five units and projects to be a valuable depth linebacker/special teamer hybrid this season.
Did not play
QB Brian Hoyer
With Cam Newton going wire-to-wire in his Patriots debut, and the game as a whole being not decided until the late fourth quarter, there were no snaps available for the team’s number two, Brian Hoyer. If New England treats its backup position like it did in years past, only a handful of snaps will be played this season between Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham.
QB Jarrett Stidham, TE Dalton Keene, LB Cassh Maluia, LB Josh Uche, OT Korey Cunningham
The Patriots’ inactive list included two players who were listed on the final injury report of the week — both of them rookies: Dalton Keene was out because of his neck, Cassh Maluia due to his knee. The other three, meanwhile, were healthy scratches with Josh Uche the biggest surprise given the prominent role he appeared to have played in training camp.