Wide receiver and cornerback are two of the most important positions in modern, pass-happy NFL football. They just so happen to be two positions where the Patriots have been a bit undermanned and forced to transition over the course of the 2023.
New England’s No. 1 cornerback and wide receiver, rookie Christian Gonzalez and veteran Kendrick Bourne, respectively, are on IR. But that’s far from the only lineup issues Bill Belichick and Co. have dealt with at the key spots.
At cornerback, the Patriots headed to Germany without veteran J.C. Jackson due to the in-season trade addition reportedly not showing up at the team hotel prior to the previous weekend’s loss to Washington. Both Jackson and second-year player Jack Jones appeared to be benched for the beginning of the Commanders game and a week later Jones saw a limited role again with just 10 snaps (18 percent) in the loss to the Colts in Frankfurt. That allowed for Shaun Wade to make his second consecutive start at cornerback against Indy, logging 50 snaps (88 percent) opposite veteran Jonathan Jones. It was Wade’s second-most snaps this season, trailing only the Dallas game in which he stepped in for the injured Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, at wide receiver Sunday’s loss in Germany saw Jalen Reagor (1 snap) and Tyquan Thornton (dressed but did not play) both have almost no role on the offense, while rookie Kayshon Boutte was active for the first time since Week 1, logging 26 snaps (38 percent). JuJu Smith-Schuster (68 snaps, 99 percent) and rookie Damario Douglas (50 snaps, 72 percent) paced the wide receiver position in terms of playing time. Douglas caught six of nine passes thrown his way for 84 yards to lead the passing attack, while Smith-Schuster caught the only pass thrown his way for 9 yards.
The Patriots are 2-8 on the season for a lot of reasons.
They have had to deal with poor play, injury and a lack of depth at a lot of positions. That certainly includes continued uncertainty in terms of roles at the two critical spots of wide receiver and cornerback.
Beyond the continued evolution of the depth charts at both receiver and cornerback, here are some of the other notes from New England’s snap counts in the loss to the Colts in Frankfurt.
--New England’s offense was on the field for 69 snaps against the Colts, with only David Andrews, Sidy Sow, Mike Onwenu and Cole Strange playing every snap. Andrews has still not missed a single snap through 10 games this season, the only player on either side of the ball with such a claim. The 69 offensive plays were the most the unit logged since Week 3 against the Jets.
--Conor McDermott was called up from the practice squad yet again and called into starting duty in place of Trent Brown at left tackle.
McDermott played 63 snaps (81 percent) before missing time to an undisclosed injury late, when he was replaced by veteran Vederian Lowe (6 snaps, 9 percent).
--Obviously Mac Jones (61 snaps, 88 percent) was benched for the final possession after his hellacious interception in the red zone, giving way to Bailey Zappe for the final eight snaps (12 percent). This is the fourth game that Jones hasn’t played all the offensive snaps, including previous benchings in ugly losses to the Cowboys and Saints as well as the loss in Las Vegas in which he gave way to Malik Cunningham in handful of situations.
--Rhamondre Stevenson (46 snaps, 67 percent) and Ezekiel Elliott (23 snaps, 33 percent) shared the playing time and the workload of New England’s best rushing performance of the season. Stevenson had 20 attempts for 88 yards (4.4 avg.), notching a season-high in rushing yards for the second straight game. Elliott chipped in with 13 carries for 54 yards (4.2 avg.). It was only the second time this season (Raiders) that both backs averaged better than 4 yards per carry in a game.
--The Patriots defense was on the field for 57 snaps against Indy, with Jahlani Tavai, Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger playing every play. It was the seventh game this season that Dugger has played every snap, as he leads all defensive players with nearly 97 percent play time on the season.
It was the first game this season in which Tavai logged every snap.
--The 57 total defensive snaps was a season low for the Patriots, and first time in more than a month the team was below 70 defensive snaps in a game.
--Deatrich Wise Jr. was on the field for 46 snaps (81 percent), his second-most extensive playing time of the season. He had three tackles and a pass defense for his efforts.
--Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux made the most of his 35 snaps (61 percent), as he led New England with eight total tackles and helped the Patriots hold the Colts’ rushing attack in check, Indy averaging less than 3 yards per carry.
--With Ja’Whuan Bentley inactive, veteran Mack Wilson (29 snaps, 51 percent) and practice squad promotion Calvin Munson (11 snaps, 19 percent) did their best to fill the void large void at linebacker. It was Wilson’s second-most snaps this season. Wilson and Munson each finished with just a single tackle in the game.
--Third-round rookie Marte Mapu saw the field for just 4 defensive snaps (7 percent) against Indy, his second fewest of the season.
--Matthew Slater, Chris Board, Cody Davis and Brenden Schooler led the Patriots special teams units with 18 snaps against the Colts, though Tavai was just one behind that group despite his full-time role on defense.
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