Patriots’ running backs, tight ends sharing the workload

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Other than developing first-round rookie quarterback Mac Jones, the Patriots don’t really have any true stars on offense even after an aggressive offseason adding talent to that side of the ball.

What New England does have, though, is a bunch of complementary contributors who’ve helped the team win six straight games, scoring an impressive 211 points in that span.

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The depth and shared workload is particularly obvious at both running back and tight end at this point.

In Sunday’ s 36-13 win over the Titans at Gillette Stadium the running back reps were split almost evenly between starter Damien Harris (22 snaps, 37 percent), rookie backup Rhamondre Stevenson (20 snaps, 33 percent) and veteran third-down option Brandon Bolden (19 snaps, 32 percent).
Though the group didn’t have its best day of production on the ground against Tennessee’s stout run defense, the trio did spread the load around with Harris (11) and Stevenson (9) getting 20 of the team’s 23 rush attempts. Bolden, in particular, was impressive in the screen game, catching four passes for 54 yards.

There’s been a similar work share program at tight end this season with big-money free agent additions Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith splitting the load at the position in most games. That was true again against the Titans when Henry logged 41 snaps (68 percent) followed closely by Smith with 34 snaps (57 percent).

Smith actually had the more productive day this time around against his former team, catching three passes for 49 yards while adding one rush for 9 yards.

After Smith got off to a rocky start, he’s settled into a role as much as a blocker as an offensive weapon while Henry has been the more consistent contributor in the passing game, including his team-leading seven touchdown receptions.

During a Monday morning Zoom call with reporters, Bill Belichick had praise for Smith’s contributions not just against the Titans but over the course of the season.

“Jonnu’s been a good player for us all year. He brings a level of toughness in the running game and explosiveness with the ball in his hands,” Belichick said. “Even when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, he’s still an explosive player in the passing game that the defense has to respect, and if they don’t, he’ll big-play them. If they do, a lot of times that creates space for other players. I thought his in-line blocking, which is something he’s always done very well, continues to be a strength for him and us. When he has the ball in his hands, he’s a fast player that’s big, explosive, and hard to tackle. Love to see him with the ball in his hands in space. He gave us some big plays early in the game to kind of help get us going there, which is always a good thing.”

Beyond the playtime balance that New England has been using effectively at both running back and tight end, here’s a look at some other notes from the snap counts in the win over the Titans:

--Linemen Shaq Mason and David Andrews were the only Patriots on the field for all 60 offensive snaps in the win over Tennessee.
Isaiah Wynn, Trent Brown and Mac Jones all played 59 snaps.

--With Brown now clearly locked back into the starting job at right tackle, Mike Onwenu has settled into a clear backup role in recent weeks with Ted Karras remaining the starter at the left guard spot. Onwenu played just 12 snaps (20 percent) against Tennessee, subbing in for Karras who played 49 snaps (82 percent). With all top six offensive linemen healthy, Onwenu has been the odd-man out of the starting lineup in recent weeks despite having started all 16 games as a rookie a year ago.

--Jakobi Meyers continues to lead the wide receiver position in both playtime and consistent production. Meyers logged a position-high 52 snaps (87 percent) against Tennessee, while leading New England with eight targets. He finished tying for a team high with five catches for 98 yards, including an impressive 38-yard grab with safety Kevin Byard flashing in front of him as he lept and then fell to the turf.

--Nelson Agholor was just behind Meyers in playtime, logging 50 snaps (83 percent). The speedster had another pretty quiet day, though, catching just three passes for 20 yards. Agholor has had 40 yards or less in each of the last four games and has had three catches or fewer in 10 of 12 games this season.

--Kendrick Bourne’s day was anything but quiet. The developing playmaker scored a pair of key touchdowns, tying for a team high with five catches on six targets for 61 yards in his 33 snaps (55 percent). He’s now second on the team with five touchdown receptions on the season.

--New England’s defense was on the field for 63 plays, no player on the unit playing every snap. Devin McCourty was the closest, playing 59 snaps (94 percent).

--Myles Bryant and Joejuan Williams equally shared the third cornerback/sixth DB role with 17 snaps (27 percent).

--Though it didn’t pan out in an impressive performance by the run defense – the Titans ran for 270 yards on 39 carries, by far the most allowed by New England this season – run-stuffing defensive tackle Davon Godchaux played a season-high 49 snaps (78 percent), pacing all defensive linemen.

--Meanwhile rookie Christian Barmore played 33 snaps (52 percent), his lowest playtime since Week 6. Barmore did miss practice time last week due to a knee injury that had him listed as questionable for the Tennessee game.

--Chase Winovich continues to have virtually no role on the Patriots defense since returning from IR. Winovich played just 6 snaps (10 percent) against the Titans. Winovich has yet to record a sack this season, meaning he’ll have to go on quite a run over the last five games to match the 5.5 sacks he put up in each of his first two seasons. Winovich has played single-digit snaps in each of his last four games played this season, something that happened just three times total in his 32 games played over his first two seasons.

--Mathew Slater, Brandon King, Cody Davis and Justin Bethel all led the special teams units with 19 snaps. Brandon Bolden (16 special teams snaps), Kyle Dugger (12) and Lawrence Guy (12) had some of the most snaps in the kicking game among those who played significant reps on either offense or defense.

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