The New England Patriots’ issues on the offensive side of the ball are all-encompassing, but some are more prominent than others. Among those is a lack of continuity up front.
Five weeks into the season, the Patriots offensive line continues to be a work in progress due to a combination of injury and performance. And while the team was able to send out the same starting five against both the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints — a first this season — it did not take long until its hand was forced yet again in Week 5.
After opening the game versus New Orleans with Trent Brown, Atonio Mafi, David Andrews, Michael Onwenu and Vederian Lowe as the O-line starters, the Patriots made a change in the late first quarter.
Mafi, whose inability to pick up a stunt earlier contributed to a Mac Jones pick-six, was replaced at left guard by Riley Reiff. For Reiff, who had just come off of injured reserve, those were the first snaps at guard in his 12-year career.
It did not take long for Mafi to reenter the game, however. The fifth-round rookie was called upon in the late second quarter, when Onwenu had to exit the contest because of an ankle injury. With the veteran right tackle later being ruled out for the remainder of the day, the Patriots ended the game with a Brown-Mafi-Andrews-Reiff-Lowe lineup — a group that continued to struggle in both the run game and pass protection
On the day, Brown, Andrews and Lowe played all 54 offensive snaps. Reiff, for comparison, was on the field for 45 (83%), and Mafi for 41 (76%). Onwenu played 22 snaps (41%) before he had to leave the game.
As for the other usage-based takeaways from the Patriots’ 34-0 loss to the Saints, here is our weekly snap count report.
Total snaps: 54
LT Trent Brown (54; 100%), C David Andrews (54; 100%), RT Vederian Lowe (54; 100%), WR DeVante Parker (53; 98%), WR Kendrick Bourne (47; 87%), RG/LG Riley Reiff (45; 83%), TE Hunter Henry (42; 78%), LG Atonio Mafi (41; 76%), QB Mac Jones (39; 72%), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (27; 50%), RB Rhamondre Stevenson (27; 50%), RB Ezekiel Elliott (25; 46%), RG Michael Onwenu (22; 41%), TE Mike Gesicki (16; 30%), WR/RB Ty Montgomery II (15; 28%), QB Bailey Zappe (15; 28%), TE Pharaoh Brown (11; 20%), WR Demario Douglas (7; 13%)
Besides the offensive line shuffle, the Patriots also continued mixing and matching their personnel on that side of the ball — a process that did not exclude the most important position on the field: for a second straight game, starting quarterback Mac Jones was pulled early; his final snap was an interception in the late third quarter. Bailey. Zappe played the final 15 offensive snaps but also was unable to deliver much of a spark for the struggling unit.
At wide receiver, New England relied mostly on DeVante Parker and Kendrick Bourne. The only other nominal wideouts — JuJu Smith-Schuster and Demario Douglas — both had to leave the game because of head injuries. As a consequence, receiver/running back hybrid Ty Montgomery ended up playing a season-high 15 snaps, primarily from the slot.
The snaps at Montgomery’s secondary position were again split between Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott, even though neither had much success carrying the football. Stevenson and Elliott each touched the ball eight times, gaining 24 and 21 yards, respectively.
There also were no surprises at tight end as far as pecking order was concerned. That said, Mike Gesicki’s 16-snap workload was relatively small considering that the Patriots lost two wide receivers to injury. In addition, the team decided against using Pharaoh Brown as a fullback this time and strictly had him on the field as an in-line option.
Total snaps: 72
S Kyle Dugger (62; 82%), LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (56; 78%), CB Myles Bryant (54; 75%), S Jabrill Peppers (53; 74%), LB Jahlani Tavai (50; 69%), CB Jonathan Jones (48; 67%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (46; 64%), ED Anfernee Jennings (46; 64%), DT Lawrence Guy Sr. (45; 62%), ED Keion White (39; 54%), ED Josh Uche (36; 50%), CB J.C. Jackson (36; 50%), DT Christian Barmore (35; 49%), LB/S Marte Mapu (29; 40%), DT Sam Roberts (25; 35%), CB Shaun Wade (25; 35%), LB Mack Wilson Sr. (18; 25%), S Adrian Phillips (15; 21%), DT Jeremiah Pharms Jr. (14; 19%), CB Ameer Speed (10; 14%), S Jalen Mills (10; 14%)
The Patriots made some moves at cornerback with a) rookie standout Christian Gonzalez potentially being out for the season after suffering a torn labrum against Dallas last week, b) Jonathan Jones returning from a three-week injury, and c) J.C. Jackson being acquired via trade. Jones and Jackson, who project as starters when fully healthy, were slowly integrated into the mix and ended up with 48 and 36 snaps, respectively.
Myles Bryant, meanwhile, continued to serve as CB1 in terms of playing time. He was on the field for 48 snaps, that he spent both on the outside and in the slot when the team moved to three-cornerback looks. Also part of those was Shaun Wade, who played 25 snaps as a perimeter option.
Besides Gonzalez, the Patriots also had to replace edge Matthew Judon. His role as a three-down defender was essentially split between Anfernee Jennings and Keion White, who both ended up setting new season-highs with 46 and 39 defensive snaps, respectively. Jennings was more of an early-down run defender, with White mostly taking the field on late downs.
Josh Uche’s usage, meanwhile, did not change significantly. The same was true for potential Judon replacements Jahlani Tavai and Deatrich Wise Jr., who were all used in their established fashion.
The rest of the defensive usage was impacted by the game script — both the injuries suffered by players such as Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jabrill Peppers and the blowout nature of the contest. Otherwise, players such as Mack Wilson or Ameer Speed likely would not have seen as many snaps outside of special teams.
Total snaps: 31
S Adrian Phillips (30; 97%), LB Chris Board (30; 97%), S Brenden Schooler (30; 97%), WR Matthew Slater (30; 97%), LB Jahlani Tavai (27; 87%), LB Mack Wilson Sr. (24; 77%), TE Pharaoh Brown (18; 58%), LB/S Marte Mapu (18; 58%), WR/RB/KR Ty Montgomery II (16; 52%), CB Ameer Speed (16; 52%), ED Keion White (14; 45%), DT Lawrence Guy Sr. (12; 39%), DE Deatrich Wise Jr. (11; 35%), S Kyle Dugger (9; 29%), S/PR Jabrill Peppers (9; 29%), P/H Bryce Baringer (9; 29%), LS Joe Cardona (9; 29%), CB/PR Myles Bryant (7; 23%), DT Sam Roberts (6; 19%), TE Mike Gesicki (5; 16%), CB Jalen Mills (2; 6%), K Chad Ryland (2; 6%) OT Trent Brown (1; 3%), OL Riley Reiff (1; 3%), G Atonio Mafi (1; 3%), G Michael Onwenu (1; 3%), ED Anfernee Jennings (1; 3%), OL Jake Andrews (1; 3%), OT Sidy Sow (1; 3%)
The kicking game operation was much of the same compared to previous weeks. The only noteworthy change came in the punt return game: with Demario Douglas leaving the game in the second quarter due to a head injury, the Patriots had to rely on Jabrill Peppers as their punt returner — a role that later went to Myles Bryant after Peppers himself briefly exited the game.
As for the relatively high number of players taking the field for only one special teams snaps: it is the result of the field goal protection unit taking the field only once on the day. Of course, Chad Ryland’s 48-yard attempt in the late first quarter sailed wide to the left.
Did not play
For a second straight week, the Patriots employed the entirety of their game day roster. Just like last week, losing in blowout fashion was the facilitator behind that usage.
ED Matthew Judon, QB Will Grier, G Cole Strange, OT Tyrone Wheatley Jr., OT Calvin Anderson, WR Kayshon Boutte
The Patriots’ inactives list featured two big names. The aforementioned Matthew Judon was ruled inactive after recently undergoing biceps surgery; the expectation is that he will be moved to injured reserve soon but possibly return later in the season. Guard Cole Strange, meanwhile, missed a second straight game with a knee injury.
The other inactives were all healthy scratches, including emergency quarterback Will Grier.