Rhamondre Stevenson is a budding star in the Patriots backfield, the third-year back coming off a sophomore season in which he not only topped 1,000 yards but also led New England with 69 receptions a year ago.
Ezekiel Elliott is a former superstar who’s coming off his worst NFL season in Dallas and was on the street as a free agent until landing with the Patriots on Aug. 16.
Together on Sunday afternoon in a rainy New York and despite going against one of the best defensive fronts in football, Stevenson and Elliott combined to help the Patriots run the ball a total of 40 times for 157 yards on the way to the 15-10 victory, New England’s first of the season.
While Elliott was the hotter hand – 16 carries for 80 yards and a 5-yard average – there is no question that Stevenson – 19 rushes for 59 yards and a 3.1-yard average – remains the lead dog in the backfield. Sunday marked the third straight game that Stevenson has been on the field for at least 65 percent of New England’s offensive snaps, although his 47 plays against the Jets was a season-low. Elliott has seen between 29 and 37.5 percent of snaps through three games, the latter his season high in New York. Too many games a year ago Stevenson was on the field for too many plays, topping 80 percent of snaps five times and 70 percent eight times.
For the season Stevenson leads New England with 134 rushing yards on 46 attempts (2.9 avg.), while Elliott has picked up 122 yards on his 28 attempts (4.4 avg.).
While Stevenson is not off to the best start, some of that would appear to be a byproduct of an offensive line that’s fielded three different starting lineups over three games against three very good defensive fronts. And though Stevenson has looked indecisive at times running the ball, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t sound worried about his third-year workhorse.
“I think Rhamondre reads blocks really well, probably as good as anybody we’ve had here,” Belichick raved. “He’s got really good vision.
He can find space in the defense, and he’s very good at lateral cuts and getting downhill and running with power. So yeah, I think his vision’s really good.”
Beyond the two-headed rushing attack that’s settling into place in the Patriots' backfield, here are a few more notes from the New England's snap counts in the win over the Jets.
--New England had 72 offensive plays against New York, the unit’s fewest of the season. Five Patriots played every offensive snap against the Jets: Mac Jones, Trent Brown, David Andrews, Mike Onwenu and Vederian Lowe. Jones and Andrews are the only offensive players who’ve been on the field for every snap through three games.
--Lowe got the start at right tackle replacing Calvin Anderson who’d played all snaps at that spot over the first two weeks. Anderson saw just five special teams snaps in New York. Lowe played every snap at right tackle a week after playing every snap at left tackle filling in for the injured Brown against Miami.
--Overall the Patriots played 16 players on offense at MetLife, all getting at least 17 snaps, the number recorded by rookie receiver Demario Douglas.
--DeVante Parker (55 snaps, 76 percent) led the way at receiver, followed closely by JuJu Smith-Schuster (53 snaps, 74 percent).
Neither had much production to show for their significant playing time as Parker finished with two catches on three targets for 19 yards, while Smith-Schuster had just one catch on three targets for 5 yards. Smith-Schuster has seen his time on the field grow each week from 53.8 percent in the opener, to 59.5 percent in Week 2 to the season-high in New York.
--Kendrick Bourne was the clear No. 3 receiver with 40 snaps (56 percent) but made the most of the time with a team-best four catches on five targets for 46 yards.
--Pharaoh Brown was the star of the game thanks to his 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown. The third tight end saw his playing time balloon up to 34.7 percent (25 snaps) after being on the field for 7.5 and 10.8 percent of snaps in the first two games.
--New England’s top two tight ends were also active in New York as the team used plenty three tight end sets. Hunter Henry logged 62 snaps (86 percent), the third game this year he’s been on the field for 78 percent or more of the snaps. Mike Gesicki played 34 snaps (47 percent), his role a little more up and down to start the year as he played 41.3 percent of snaps in Week 1 and 71.6 percent in Week 2.
--The Patriots defense was on the field for 63 snaps, the second straight week for that total. Kyle Dugger and Ja’Whaun Bentley were the only two New England defenders to log all 63 plays, with Bentley the only guy who’s been on the field for all 192 defensive snaps on the young season.
--Twenty one Patriots saw snaps on defense against the Jets, with 16 seeing at least 25 percent play time.
--Dugger, Christian Gonzalez (62 snaps, 98 percent), Myles Bryant (62 snaps, 98 percent) and Jabrill Peppers (60 snaps, 95 percent) led the way in the back end of the defense. Dugger (14) and Peppers (16) also played significant snaps on special teams. The duo tied for the New England lead with seven tackles each on defense.
--Matthew Judon limped off with a little scare after getting hit in the left knee at one point against New York. Judon played a season low 42 snaps (season-low 66.7 percent) against the Jets, but still very much impacted the game with a pair of sacks, including a late safety.
--With the Patriots playing more base defense against New York, third-year player Anfernee Jennings saw his first playing time of the season on the edge of the defensive front. Jennings played 19 snaps (30.2 percent) in New York, finishing with five tackles for second-most in his career.
“I thought Anfernee gave us a lot of good plays on the edge of the defense,” Belichick said. “We played more base defense in this game then we have in the first two, so that put him on the field more in those situations. Well, he was in there in some other situations as well. So, a big emphasis for us was handling the outside runs better than we did against Miami, and I thought Anfernee did a really, really good job of that. He plays with good awareness and he’s a strong, physical player.”
--With Davon Godchaux (11 snaps) and Daniel Ekuale (10 snaps) leaving the game to injuries, second-year defensive lineman Sam Roberts stepped up with his first 18 defensive snaps of the season. It was the second most snaps Roberts has played in a game on defense, just behind the 22 snaps against Cleveland a year ago that made up a big chunk of the 40 defensive snaps he played overall as a rookie.
--Shaun Wade saw 38 snaps (60 percent) as an extra cornerback – New England is playing without Jack Jones (IR), Jonathan Jones and Marcus Jones (IR) in the back end – just the eighth game he’s played in two-plus seasons in New England. After playing 14 snaps in Week 2 against Miami, Wade has now set career highs in playing time in consecutive weeks.
--Jalen Mills was a key figure in the back end for the Patriots over his first two seasons in New England. But that has not been the case to open 2023. That said, Mills did see a season-high 23 snaps (36.5 percent) against New York. This after playing a total of 22 snaps in the first two games combined.
--Adrian Phillips has also seen his role in the back end of the defense shrink significantly to open the new season. Phillips has played just 36 snaps (18.75 percent) total over the first three games, including a season-low six snaps (9.5 percent) in New York. In 2020 Phillips played 73.35 percent of defensive snaps, 81.74 percent in 2021 and 62.3 percent in 2022, never less than 39 percent in any single game last season.
--Rookie third-round pick Marte Mapu drew lots of hype this summer, but he’s had a limited role through his first three weeks of NFL action. Mapu played just seven snaps (11 percent) in New York, down from a season-high 30 snaps (47.6 percent) a week earlier against Miami. Through three games Mapu has played 23.96 percent of snaps.
--Matthew Slater, Chris Board and Brenden Schooler paced the kicking game with 25 snaps (81 percent) each. Ty Montgomery, Jahlani Tavai and Mack Wilson weren’t far behind with 23 snaps on special teams.
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