New England Patriots: Defensive snaps

Patriots' defensive snaps: Skinner chips in

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- A look at snaps by New England Patriots' players on defense in the team's 30-7 victory against the Minnesota Vikings (includes penalties):

Jerod Mayo -- 68 of 68
Dont'a Hightower -- 68 of 68
Deontae Skinner -- 21 of 68

Quick-hit thought: Skinner, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, was part of one base package that the Patriots mostly used when the Vikings had one back and two tight ends on the field. He played 19 first-half snaps and just two in the second half. In explaining Skinner's promotion, Bill Belichick said, "Deontae has had a couple good weeks on the practice squad and in practice. It is an opportunity for him and I think he was mentally ready to take advantage of it. Sure he will get better as he continues to play. He hasn't played a lot of football for us this year."

Rob Ninkovich -- 68 of 68
Chandler Jones -- 68 of 68

Quick-hit thought: Ninkovich had played 35 of 74 snaps in the opener but was back to full-time duty, perhaps in part because of Jamie Collins' thigh injury keeping him out of action. Meanwhile, Jones was arguably the best defender on the field.

Sealver Siliga -- 40 of 68
Vince Wilfork -- 39 of 68
Dominique Easley -- 29 of 68
Chris Jones -- 16 of 68
Joe Vellano -- 2 of 68

Quick-hit thought: Vellano had started and played 32 of 74 snaps in the opener, but he only took the field for two second-half snaps against the Vikings. A combination of Jones' return from injury, and the Patriots facing an interior tackle tandem of Wilfork and Siliga, contributed to his reduction in workload.

Logan Ryan -- 68 of 68
Darrelle Revis -- 60 of 68
Kyle Arrington -- 45 of 68
Malcolm Butler -- 8 of 68

Quick-hit thought: After Alfonzo Dennard was a surprise scratch (left shoulder), it thrust Ryan into a full-time role and he played well. Revis was excellent and got the final series off, while Arrington was a consistent presence in the slot.

Devin McCourty -- 60 of 68
Patrick Chung -- 37 of 68
Duron Harmon -- 25 of 68
Tavon Wilson -- 13 of 68
Nate Ebner -- 13 of 68

Quick-hit thought: Chung has played the most next to McCourty in the first two games of the season, and he sometimes comes off the field in sub packages, giving way to Harmon. Ebner (two first-half snaps; 11 second-half snaps) was part of the dime package that was used mostly late.

Patriots' defensive snaps: Ninkovich dips

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- A look at snaps by New England Patriots players on defense in the team's season-opening 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins (includes penalties):

Dont'a Hightower -- 74 of 74
Chandler Jones -- 70 of 74
Vince Wilfork -- 50 of 74
Sealver Siliga -- 41 of 74
Rob Ninkovich -- 35 of 74
Joe Vellano -- 32 of 74
Dominique Easley -- 27 of 74

Quick-hit thought: Ninkovich played 95 percent of the defensive snaps in 2013, so seeing him in a part-time role caught the eye, as he was taken off the field in sub packages and replaced by cornerback Kyle Arrington. The Patriots seemed to miss his pass-rush abilities at times in sub. Noticed more of Hightower playing toward the line of scrimmage instead of in a cover-based role, which appears to play better to his strengths.

Jerod Mayo -- 74 of 74
Jamie Collins -- 73 of 74

Quick-hit thought: Collins looked like his gas tank was on empty by the end of the game.

Devin McCourty -- 73 of 74
Darrelle Revis -- 65 of 74
Alfonzo Dennard -- 50 of 74
Patrick Chung -- 47 of 74
Kyle Arrington -- 31 of 74
Malcolm Butler -- 27 of 74
Tavon Wilson -- 22 of 74
Logan Ryan -- 18 of 74
Duron Harmon -- 4 of 74
Nate Ebner -- 1 of 74

Quick-hit thought: Revis missed the final nine snaps because of cramping. The repetitions at the second cornerback and second safety spots were spread around a bit, but it gave a glimpse of how the coaching staff views the personnel because Alfonzo Dennard got the majority of snaps as the No. 2 cornerback while Patrick Chung took the most No. 2 safety reps. A bit surprising to see such a low playing-time total for Harmon, who was the No. 3 safety in 2013. Meanwhile, Wilson's 22 defensive snaps exceeded his total for all of last season (18).

Snaps: Depth at DB exploited

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
DENVER – Snaps played by Patriots defenders in the team’s 26-16 AFC Championship Game loss to the Broncos, while analyzing what it means (as charted in the press box, small margin for error):

LB Don’t’a Hightower – 75 of 75
DE Rob Ninkovich – 75 of 75
S Devin McCourty – 74 of 75
DT Chris Jones – 73 of 75
CB Kyle Arrington – 72 of 75
LB Jamie Collins – 72 of 75
DE Chandler Jones – 72 of 75
S Steve Gregory – 70 of 75
CB Alfonzo Dennard – 67 of 75
CB Logan Ryan – 58 of 75
DT Sealver Siliga – 57 of 75
CB Aqib Talib – 19 of 75
DT Joe Vellano – 18 of 75
DE Andre Carter – 15 of 75
LB Dane Fletcher – 6 of 75
S Duron Harmon – 2 of 75

(Penalties included. Final kneel-down not included.)

ANALYSIS: The Patriots were in their 4-2-5 nickel package for most of the game against the Broncos' three-receiver attack. They played a 4-1-6 dime sparingly, were in their base 4-3 for one snap, and also called on the short-yardage package for a few snaps. Aqib Talib’s early second-quarter injury changed the complexion of things, which led to rookie Logan Ryan playing an extended role. It was a rocky game for him as the Patriots’ depth at defensive back was exploited. … At defensive end, the Patriots rode almost exclusively with Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones this season. Adding a consistent third option to complement them, whether it’s 2013 seventh-round draft choice Michael Buchanan or someone else, could be on the radar for 2014. ... The two snaps for safety Duron Harmon came in the dime defense after Talib got hurt, with the Patriots moving Devin McCourty down to cornerback. ... At linebacker, it was exclusively Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins in the nickel, with Dane Fletcher coming on for the base package and short-yardage.

Snaps: How Patriots replaced Spikes

January, 12, 2014
Jan 12
Looking at snaps played by Patriots defenders in Saturday’s win over the Colts, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

LB Jamie Collins – 65 of 65
LB Dont'a Hightower – 65 of 65
DE Chandler Jones – 65 of 65
DE Rob Ninkovich – 65 of 65
S Devin McCourty – 64 of 65
CB Aqib Talib – 64 of 65
S Steve Gregory – 63 of 65
CB Alfonzo Dennard – 53 of 65
DT Sealver Siliga – 47 of 65
DT Chris Jones – 46 of 65
CB Logan Ryan – 41 of 65
DE Andre Carter – 24 of 65
CB Kyle Arrington – 17 of 65
DT Joe Vellano – 17 of 65
LB Dane Fletcher – 16 of 65
S Tavon Wilson – 3 of 65

(Penalties included.)

ANALYSIS: Dane Fletcher replaced Brandon Spikes as the middle linebacker in the base defense, but came off in the nickel. It seems fair to say that Fletcher’s 16 snaps would have gone to Spikes, so this was the big change-up with Spikes on injured reserve. … Jamie Collins played every snap for the first time this season. He had averaged 10 defensive snaps per game through the first 10 games of the season. Over the final six games of the regular season, he averaged 33.5 defensive snaps per game. This was a “graduation” of sorts to a full-time role for him. … At cornerback, it looked like the Patriots had a pre-set plan to give Alfonzo Dennard the fourth defensive series off as he was returning to action after being sidelined with a knee injury. That’s why his snap total was a bit lower than fellow starter Aqib Talib, whose lone snap not played came in the goal-line package. … Cornerback Kyle Arrington was replaced as the nickelback late in the second quarter by rookie Logan Ryan and didn’t play on defense the rest of the way. … Of safety Tavon Wilson’s three snaps, two came in a linebacker-type role when the Patriots were in their goal-line package and the other came in the nickel when he was the fifth defensive back to give more of a sturdy run presence. … The 65 snaps were two shy of a season low (63, vs. Miami on Dec. 15). That was due, in part, to some big plays surrendered.

Snaps: Defensive breakdown for 2013

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
A review of snaps played by Patriots defenders in the 2013 season and analyzing what it means (as charted in the press box, small margin for error):

Defensive end
Chandler Jones – 1,134 of 1,156 (98.1 percent)
Rob Ninkovich – 1,105 of 1,156 (95.6 percent)
Andre Carter – 155 of 1,156 (13.4 percent)
Michael Buchanan – 121 of 1,156 (10.5 percent)
Jake Bequette – 14 of 1,156 (1.2 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: In a year when there were major injuries across the defense, Jones and Ninkovich were two of the constants. They hardly ever came off the field and were among the most productive players on defense. Carter has been the primary nickel rusher since signing in late October, taking over for Buchanan (seventh-round pick, Illinois), who had the role in the first seven games of the season. Bequette, a 2012 third-round pick, has had a second straight redshirt-type year.

Defensive tackle
Chris Jones – 786 of 1,156 (68.0 percent)
Joe Vellano – 667 of 1,156 (57.7 percent)
Tommy Kelly – 221 of 1,156 (19.1 percent)
Sealver Siliga – 215 of 1,156 (18.6 percent)
Vince Wilfork – 177 of 1,156 (15.3 percent)
Isaac Sopoaga – 118 of 1,156 (10.2 percent)
Marcus Forston – 34 of 1,156 (2.9 percent)
Andre Neblett – 5 of 1,156 (0.4 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: If you’d have said at the start of the year that a rookie claimed on waivers in early September (Jones) and an undrafted free agent (Vellano) would lead the team in snaps at the position, many would have said the forecast would have been gloomy. But in a credit to the players, and also to the coaching staff, the Patriots pieced things together. Season-ending injuries to Wilfork (Sept. 29) and Kelly (Oct. 6), coupled with top-three defensive tackle Armond Armstead unexpectedly missing the year with an infection, hit at the depth at the position. Siliga has come on strong in the final month.

Dont’a Hightower – 861 of 1,156 (74.5 percent)
Brandon Spikes – 690 of 1,156 (59.7 percent)
Jerod Mayo – 405 of 1,156 (35.0 percent)
Jamie Collins – 298 of 1,156 (25.8 percent)
Dane Fletcher – 209 of 1,156 (18.1 percent)
Steve Beauharnais – 1 of 1,156 (0.1 percent)
Chris White – 1 of 1,156 (0.1 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: Mayo’s season-ending injury (Oct. 13) changed everything, with his three-down duties split up among multiple players. Hightower had the biggest shift, taking on more of the communication. Fletcher took over the dime defense (6 defensive backs). Spikes played more in sub packages than he probably would have otherwise, while Collins – the team’s top pick (52nd overall) – was thrust into the base defense. He shows promise but has been forced to learn on the job.

Aqib Talib -- 849 of 1,156 (73.4 percent)
Kyle Arrington – 834 of 1,156 (72.1 percent)
Alfonzo Dennard – 722 of 1,156 (62.5 percent)
Logan Ryan – 598 of 1,156 (51.7 percent)
Marquice Cole – 167 of 1,156 (14.4 percent)
Justin Green – 9 of 1,156 (0.8 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: With the Patriots in their sub defense on 67 percent of the snaps this season, it highlighted the importance of the fifth (and sometimes sixth) defensive backs -- players like Arrington, Ryan and Dennard. In the perfect Patriots world, they would have liked Talib and Dennard to start, with Arrington in the slot. But injuries forced some juggling, and Ryan – the third-round pick out of Rutgers – showed he was capable of stepping up. Some good depth here, with Talib’s performance at a matchup corner, particularly the stretch of games from Weeks 3-6, was as good as it gets.

Devin McCourty – 1,031 of 1,156 (89.2 percent)
Steve Gregory – 840 of 1,156 (72.7 percent)
Duron Harmon – 427 of 1,156 (36.9 percent)
Tavon Wilson – 18 of 1,156 (1.6 percent)
Nate Ebner – 5 of 1,156 (0.4 percent)

Quick-hit thoughts: McCourty’s move to a full-time role at the position paid dividends as his range and steadiness helped limit some of the big plays that had hurt the unit at times in 2012. He was a well deserving second-team Associated Press All-Pro. Plans to have veteran free-agent Adrian Wilson be part of the mix never unfolded as desired, with the heady Gregory once again assuming the starting role. Harmon, the rookie third-round pick out of Rutgers, contributed more than expected as he leapfrogged Wilson (2012 second-round pick) on the depth chart.

(Penalties included; not kneel-downs)

Snaps: Siliga & Jones take lead role at DT

December, 30, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday's 34-20 win over the Bills, while analyzing what it means (small margin for error, as charted in press box):

DE Chandler Jones -- 70 of 70
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 70 of 70
S Steve Gregory -- 69 of 70
S Duron Harmon -- 69 of 70
CB Logan Ryan -- 69 of 70
CB Aqib Talib -- 69 of 70
DT Chris Jones -- 64 of 70
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 56 of 70
DT Sealver Siliga -- 54 of 70
LB Jamie Collins -- 48 of 70
CB Kyle Arrington -- 44 of 70
LB Brandon Spikes -- 44 of 70
LB Dane Fletcher -- 17 of 70
DE Andre Carter -- 12 of 70
DT Joe Vellano -- 11 of 70
S Tavon Wilson -- 2 of 70
DE Michael Buchanan -- 1 of 70
CB Justin Green -- 1 of 70

(Penalties included.)

ANALYSIS: One of the notable changes the past two weeks has been at defensive tackle, where veteran Isaac Sopoaga has been a healthy scratch and rookie Joe Vellano is playing limited snaps. That has left Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones as the primary tandem and they are accounting well for themselves. Siliga had a team-high nine tackles and one sack and forced fumble on Sunday. ... For the second straight week, rookie Logan Ryan started at cornerback opposite Aqib Talib, with Kyle Arrington the third man in. ... Ryan, Talib and starting safeties Duron Harmon and Steve Gregory played every snap but one which came in the goal-line package. ... That left defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich as the only defenders to play every snap. They are the constants. ... Cornerback Justin Green's one snap came as an injury replacement for Arrington and he had tight coverage on an incomplete pass in his direction. ... Defensive end Michael Buchanan's one snap came as he entered in the nickel and was ultimately trailing in coverage on running back Fred Jackson's 37-yard catch-and-run. ... Safety Tavon Wilson's two snaps came in the dime package as he entered as the sixth defensive back. ... There was a little more of a liberal substitution pattern with the top four linebackers as Dane Fletcher (17 snaps) played more in nickel than he has in past games. He's mostly been the team's lone dime linebacker.

Snaps: CB Logan Ryan leads way

December, 23, 2013
BALTIMORE -- Snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday's win over the Ravens, while analyzing what it means (small margin for error, as charted in press box):

CB Logan Ryan -- 71 of 73
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 70 of 73
CB Aqib Talib -- 70 of 73
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 68 of 73
DE Chandler Jones -- 68 of 73
CB Kyle Arrington -- 65 of 73
S Steve Gregory -- 65 of 73
DT Chris Jones -- 57 of 73
DT Sealver Siliga -- 55 of 73
S Duron Harmon -- 48 of 73
LB Brandon Spikes -- 43 of 73
LB Jamie Collins -- 33 of 73
S Devin McCourty -- 26 of 73
DE Andre Carter -- 20 of 73
DT Joe Vellano -- 14 of 73
DE Michael Buchanan -- 12 of 73
S Tavon Wilson -- 11 of 73
CB Alfonzo Dennard -- 5 of 73
LB Steve Beauharnais -- 1 of 73
LB Chris White -- 1 of 73

(Includes penalties. Does not include half-ending kneel-down.)

ANALYSIS: Rookie cornerback Logan Ryan's total stands out as he started and played extensively. He was coming off a 17-snap performance against the Dolphins. The two snaps he didn't play came in the short-yardage defense. ... CB Kyle Arrington played mostly in the slot as part of the nickel defense the Patriots mostly employed. ... The depth chart at defensive tackle has started to form, with Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga the top options. They are followed by Joe Vellano, whose snaps have reduced in recent weeks. Veteran Isaac Sopoaga is fourth on that depth chart and he was a healthy scratch. ... Devin McCourty's lower total is a result of him leaving the game with a head injury (likely a concussion) early in the third quarter. ... Safety Tavon Wilson's 11 snaps surpass his total from the 13 games combined (5 snaps). Most of that work came at the linebacker level in the dime defense. ... The lone snaps for LBs Chris White and Steve Beauharnais came on the final Ravens offensive possession. ... CB Aqib Talib and DEs Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones continue to be ironmen, playing most every snap. ... The Patriots defended just 23 snaps in the first half before the number spikes to 50 in the second half.

Snaps: CB Cole was targeted quickly

December, 16, 2013
MIAMI -- A look at snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

S Steve Gregory -- 63 of 63
S Devin McCourty -- 63 of 63
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 63 of 63
CB Aqib Talib -- 63 of 63
CB Kyle Arrington -- 61 of 63
DE Chandler Jones -- 61 of 63
CB Alfonzo Dennard -- 57 of 63
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 40 of 63
DT Chris Jones -- 38 of 63
NT Sealver Siliga -- 38 of 63
LB Jamie Collins --29 of 63
DT Joe Vellano -- 24 of 63
LB Dane Fletcher -- 23 of 63
LB Brandon Spikes -- 21 of 63
CB Logan Ryan -- 17 of 63
NT Isaac Sopoaga -- 15 of 63
DE Andre Carter -- 13 of 63
CB Marquice Cole -- 4 of 63

(Penalties included.)

Analysis: When Cole came on late in the second quarter for the injured Arrington, the Dolphins quickly targeted him and produced a 39-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Mike Wallace. As part of a game plan that had top corner Talib playing inside for most of the game, Arrington's injury created a situation where Cole, more of a natural slot corner, aligned on the outside against Wallace. That was a matchup the Dolphins took advantage of, and led to the question: What made Cole a better option than the rookie Ryan, or even McCourty (with Duron Harmon entering at safety)? ... At defensive tackle, Siliga and Chris Jones were the top combination, with the rookie Vellano third on the depth chart, followed by Sopoaga. ... Chandler Jones, who usually plays every snap, missed two in the third quarter when he stayed down after one play. It appeared to just be cramping, as he came back quickly. ... Spikes had a limited workload, in part because the Patriots were mostly in sub defenses and seemed to prefer the speed/athleticism of either the rookie Collins or the four-year veteran Fletcher.

Snaps: Siliga holds his own at nose tackle

December, 9, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at snaps played by New England Patriots defenders in Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

DE Chandler Jones – 76 of 76
DE Rob Ninkovich – 76 of 76
S Devin McCourty – 75 of 76
CB Aqib Talib – 75 of 76
S Steve Gregory – 66 of 76
DT Chris Jones – 65 of 76
LB Dont'a Hightower – 58 of 76
LB Jamie Collins – 55 of 76
NT Sealver Siliga – 53 of 76
CB Logan Ryan – 51 of 76
LB Brandon Spikes – 47 of 76
CB Kyle Arrington – 32 of 76
LB Dane Fletcher – 32 of 76
CB Alfonzo Dennard – 25 of 76
DT Joe Vellano – 22 of 76
S Duron Harmon – 16 of 76
DE Andre Carter – 11 of 76
NT Isaac Sopoaga – 2 of 76

(Penalties included. Spikes included. One additional snap, which accounts for 12-men-on-the-field penalty.)

Analysis: The first-unit presence of Siliga, promoted from the practice squad two weeks ago, was notable. The 6-foot-2, 325-pound second-year pro started over Vellano (6-1, 300) as the Patriots prioritized taking away the Browns’ inside running game and appeared to want more bulk and power. Siliga, who also played over veteran Sopoaga (relegated to two snaps of short-yardage work), seemed to hold his own. … The single snaps that McCourty and Talib missed were in short yardage. … Hightower wore the green dot on his helmet as he had the communication device in his helmet to get the calls. … The Patriots didn’t run many nickel fronts, which is why Carter’s snap total was low. … Collins, the team’s top pick in April, is playing more as he’s showing up in the base defense and also in sub at times. His 55 snaps were easily a season high, more than doubling his previous top mark of 26 against the Dolphins on Oct. 27. … In the secondary, the Patriots played Talib and Ryan as the top corners in the base defense, but in the sub they removed Ryan and inserted Dennard and Arrington. … Gregory, in his second game back since breaking his thumb, took more of the snaps as rookie Harmon was slightly edged out.

Snaps: Ryan over Arrington at CB

December, 2, 2013
HOUSTON -- A look at snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday's 34-31 win over the Texans, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

DE Chandler Jones -- 59 of 59
S Devin McCourty -- 59 of 59
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 59 of 59
CB Aqib Talib -- 59 of 59
DT Chris Jones -- 58 of 59
CB Logan Ryan -- 54 of 59
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 49 of 59
DT Joe Vellano -- 49 of 59
LB Brandon Spikes -- 47 of 59
S Duron Harmon -- 32 of 59
S Steve Gregory -- 23 of 59
NT Isaac Sopoaga -- 21 of 59
CB Kyle Arrington -- 18 of 59
NT Sealver Siliga -- 15 of 59
LB Jamie Collins -- 14 of 59
LB Dane Fletcher -- 12 of 59
DE Andre Carter -- 10 of 59
CB Marquice Cole -- 9 of 59
S Nate Ebner -- 2 of 59

(Penalties included, but not kneel-downs.)

ANALYSIS: The Patriots had two different "base" packages in the game depending on the Texans' personnel. The standard base personnel had rookie cornerback Ryan playing over Arrington in the No. 2 spot opposite Talib. The other base package had a third cornerback over a second safety, with Arrington coming on in place of Harmon/Gregory. The 18 snaps for Arrington, who has been playing through a groin injury, were easily a season low. ... Even with Gregory returning at safety for the first time since breaking his thumb Nov. 3, he was limited in his snaps, splitting time with Harmon, who started. ... Because the Patriots weren't in their sub defense as often as last week, linebackers Fletcher and Collins saw their snaps decline when compared to last week against the Broncos. ... Siliga made his debut after being promoted from the practice squad Wednesday and split time with Sopoaga at nose tackle in the base 3-4 alignment, with Vellano and Chris Jones at the ends. ... Safety Nate Ebner's two snaps came on the final plays of the game when the Patriots had seven defensive backs on the field. ... The 59 snaps were one shy of a season-low (58, vs. Carolina).

Snaps: Reserve LBs do their part

November, 25, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday's 34-31 win over the Broncos, while analyzing what it means (as charted in the press box, small margin for error):

S Duron Harmon – 90 of 90
DE Chandler Jones – 90 of 90
DT Chris Jones – 90 of 90
S Devin McCourty – 90 of 90
DE Rob Ninkovich – 90 of 90
CB Kyle Arrington – 85 of 90
CB Aqib Talib – 80 of 90
DT Joe Vellano – 70 of 90
CB Logan Ryan – 69 of 90
LB Brandon Spikes – 68 of 90
LB Dane Fletcher – 57 of 90
LB Dont’a Hightower – 33 of 90
LB Jamie Collins – 22 of 90
CB Alfonzo Dennard – 21 of 90
DT Isaac Sopoaga – 14 of 90
CB Justin Green – 8 of 90
CB Marquice Cole – 7 of 90
DE Andre Carter – 6 of 90

(Penalties included.)

ANALYSIS: Contributions from linebackers Dane Fletcher and Jamie Collins, who haven’t been a big part of defensive plans prior to this point, stood out. Fletcher had played 68 total defensive snaps through the first nine games of the season and nearly matched the total on Sunday night, when he had a key forced fumble. Fletcher was thrust into action when linebacker Dont’a Hightower came out of the game late in the second quarter and didn’t play another snap the rest of the way. As for Collins, he was “active”, according to Bill Belichick. That was reflected in his snaps-to-tackle ratio, which was impressive (22 snaps, 10 tackles). The Patriots spent most of the game in their 4-2-5 nickel and the speed and range of Fletcher and Collins helped the club. … One aspect of the 4-2-5 nickel that was a bit different from the norm was that it didn’t include No. 3 defensive end Andre Carter until late. The Patriots kept a second defensive tackle on the field over a third-DE (when they kick DE Chandler Jones inside) in hopes of staying stout against the run. Run defense was a struggle for them. … The 90 snaps were two shy of the season high (92, vs. Jets, Oct. 20) … Players to monitor on the injury front who didn’t play in the second half: Hightower, DT Isaac Sopoaga and CB Alfonzo Dennard. … With Sopoaga sidelined, and first-year player Marcus Forston inactive, it left Joe Vellano and Chris Jones as the lone defensive tackles. That’s another reminder of how the season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly have had a big effect on the club. … It looked like a pre-set rotation was adopted at cornerback in the first half, just to give ailing players a chance to limit their workload. It showed up on the fifth drive when rookie Justin Green, promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, replaced Aqib Talib.

Snaps: Aqib Talib plays 45 of 58

November, 19, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Snaps played by Patriots defenders in the team's 24-20 loss to the Panthers, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

LB Dont'a Hightower – 58 of 58
DE Chandler Jones – 58 of 58
S Devin McCourty – 58 of 58
DE Rob Ninkovich – 58 of 58
DT Chris Jones – 54 of 58
CB Kyle Arrington – 50 of 58
S Duron Harmon – 47 of 58
LB Brandon Spikes – 45 of 58
CB Aqib Talib – 45 of 58
DT Joe Vellano – 42 of 58
DT Isaac Sopoaga – 40 of 58
CB Logan Ryan – 33 of 58
DE Andre Carter – 19 of 58
LB Dane Fletcher – 14 of 58
CB Marquice Cole – 12 of 58
S Nate Ebner – 3 of 58
LB Jamie Collins – 2 of 58

(Penalties included)

ANALYSIS: Talib came out of the game after deflecting a pass intended for Steve Smith with 5:47 remaining in the fourth quarter and did not return. The team announced he had a hip injury and the return, at the time, was questionable. … This was a game in which the Patriots were in their base 3-4/5-2 defense more than the norm, hence the high snap totals for defensive linemen/ends. Sopoaga had played 26 snaps in his debut, but saw his playing time spike to 40 because of the base-heavy plan. … The Patriots showed a dime look early and in a surprise had Ebner as the sixth defensive back over 2012 second-round draft choice Tavon Wilson. But that wasn't a big part of the plan as they mostly played nickel when in sub. … Hightower wore the green dot on his helmet, indicating he had the communication device in receiving the call from the sideline. Safety Steve Gregory, who missed the game with a broken thumb, had that responsibility the previous two games. … Harmon stepped in for Gregory and seemed to account well for himself in his most extended playing time of the season (47 snaps). He had played 125 defensive snaps entering the game.

Snaps: Patriots defense at midpoint

November, 8, 2013
With the New England Patriots on their bye week, it's a good time to step back and assess. The following are snaps played by defenders through the first nine games of the season (penalties included), with a quick-hit analysis at each position:

Chandler Jones -- 652 of 667 -- 97.8 percent
Rob Ninkovich -- 619 of 667 -- 92.8 percent
Michael Buchanan -- 108 of 667 -- 16.2 percent
Andre Carter -- 64 of 667 -- 9.6 percent
Jake Bequette -- 14 of 667 -- 2.1 percent

Quick-hit thoughts: Jones and Ninkovich have been full-time, every-down players. ... The biggest change has been the last two games as Carter has taken over for Buchanan as the top backup and sub rusher. Buchanan was taking himself out of too many plays by rushing straight up the field. ... Bequette, the 2012 third-round pick, is No. 5 on the depth chart.

Joe Vellano -- 435 of 667 -- 65.2 percent
Chris Jones -- 360 of 667 -- 54.0 percent
Tommy Kelly -- 221 of 667 -- 33.1 percent
Vince Wilfork -- 177 of 667 -- 26.5 percent
Marcus Forston -- 34 of 667 -- 5.1 percent
Isaac Sopoaga -- 26 of 667 --3.9 percent
Andre Neblett -- 5 of 667 -- 0.7 percent

Quick-hit thoughts: Who could have guessed that rookies Vellano (undrafted) and Jones (claimed on waivers on Sept. 11) would be leading all defensive tackles at this point in the season? That's what happens when starters Wilfork and Kelly are lost to season-ending injuries. Look for Sopoaga, acquired from the Eagles at the trade deadline, to move into the No. 3 spot in the rotation. He was mostly subbing in for Vellano this past Sunday. Jones didn't start playing until Week 4, so he's made up a lot of ground in a hurry as almost an everydown player.

Dont'a Hightower -- 499 of 667 -- 74.8 percent
Jerod Mayo -- 405 of 667 -- 60.7 percent
Brandon Spikes -- 375 of 667 -- 56.2 percent
Jamie Collins -- 95 of 667 -- 14.2 percent
Dane Fletcher -- 54 of 667 -- 8.1 percent

Quick-hit thoughts: The combination of Mayo sustaining a season-ending injury Oct. 13, and Wilfork being lost for the year, has led to a spike for Spikes. The tie-in to Wilfork is with run defense, as Wilfork was a rock in the middle. Without that presence, the Patriots are using Spikes to attack downhill. In the four games that Wilfork was available this season, Spikes averaged 22.5 snaps per game. Since Wilfork was injured, it's been an average of 57 snaps per game. ... Collins, the team's top draft pick, has played limited snaps in both sub and base packages. ... Fletcher is leading the dime defense the last two weeks.

Alfonzo Dennard -- 614 of 667 -- 92.1 percent
Kyle Arrington -- 479 of 667 -- 71.8 percent
Aqib Talib -- 388 of 667 -- 58.2 percent
Logan Ryan -- 234 of 667 -- 35.1 percent
Marquice Cole -- 135 of 667 -- 20.2 percent

Quick-hit thoughts: Talib is the clear-cut No. 1 but he's been sidelined with a hip injury the last three-and-a-half games. Dennard has played more snaps than any seventh-round draft choice over the past three years ... Cole hadn't played on defense prior to the Week 7 game at the Jets, as the Patriots tapped their depth playing without Talib.

Devin McCourty -- 660 of 667 -- 99.0 percent
Steve Gregory -- 554 0f 667 -- 83.1 percent
Duron Harmon -- 125 of 667 -- 18.7 percent
Tavon Wilson -- 5 of 667 -- 0.7 percent

Quick-hit thoughts: McCourty's consistent presence and high-level play has him in the Pro Bowl discussion. ... Wilson, the controversial 2012 second-round pick, has slipped down the depth chart and is mostly a special-teamer at this point, along with 2012 sixth-round pick Nate Ebner.

Snaps: Sopoaga chips in with 26

November, 4, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Snaps played by New England Patriots defenders in Sunday's 55-31 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error);

S Devin McCourty -- 75 of 75
CB Kyle Arrington -- 73 of 75
DT Chris Jones -- 72 of 75
CB Alfonzo Dennard -- 71 of 75
DE Chandler Jones -- 66 of 75
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 61 of 75
DT Joe Vellano -- 61 of 75
CB Logan Ryan -- 58 of 75
DE Andre Carter -- 45 of 75
LB Brandon Spikes -- 45 of 75
S Steve Gregory -- 39 of 75
S Duron Harmon -- 38 of 75
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 35 of 75
CB Marquice Cole -- 29 of 75
DT/NT Isaac Sopoaga -- 26 of 75
LB Dane Fletcher -- 16 of 75
DE Michael Buchanan -- 9 of 75
S Tavon Wilson -- 4 of 75
LB Jamie Collins -- 2 of 75

(Penalties included; kneel-down at end of the second quarter not included.)

Analysis: Sopoaga started in his Patriots debut, playing a situational role in the base defense. The reason he started was because the Steelers opened the game with offensive lineman Mike Adams as a sixth blocker, forcing the Patriots' "big" defense on to the field. We'll have to look closer at Sopoaga's play to get a better feel, but two plays caught the eye live -- his ability to help control the line of scrimmage on a fourth-and-1 stop and a pass breakup that could have been a pick-six if he caught it. Overall, some good impact from the newcomer in the base and short-yardage packages, it seemed. ... While Sopoaga helped the cause, rookies Jones and Vellano remained the top pairing at defensive tackle. When Sopoaga mostly rotated in, it was for Vellano. ... Carter played 40 of his 45 snaps in the second half as the top replacement for Ninkovich, who left with a foot injury in the third quarter. ... For the second week in a row, Fletcher ran the dime defense as the lone linebacker. ... Collins played two snaps in the short-yardage package. ... Harmon's high stat total is a result of coming on for the injured Gregory in the second half. ... Same for Buchanan and Wilson on the Steelers' final drive.

Snaps: Andre Carter steps in

October, 28, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday's 27-17 win over the Dolphins, while analyzing what it means (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

CB Alfonzo Dennard -- 80-of-80
DT Chris Jones -- 80-of-80
S Devin McCourty -- 80-of-80
DE Rob Ninkovich -- 80-of-80
DE Chandler Jones -- 79-of-80
S Steve Gregory -- 73-of-80
DT Joe Vellano -- 71-of-80
LB Dont'a Hightower -- 62-of-80
LB Brandon Spikes -- 62-of-80
CB Kyle Arrington -- 52-of-80
CB Marquice Cole -- 45-of-80
CB Logan Ryan -- 31-of-80
LB Jamie Collins -- 26-of-80
LB Dane Fletcher -- 20-of-80
DE Andre Carter -- 19-of-80
S Duron Harmon -- 18-of-80
DT Marcus Forston -- 2-of-80

ANALYSIS: Veteran defensive end Andre Carter took the snaps normally played by rookie Michael Buchanan, although he was used slightly differently. In addition to coming in the 4-1-6 dime package, Carter was tapped in a 5-2-4 base defense, which appeared to be a halftime adjustment. Carter didn't show up on the stat sheet, as his snaps were split between seven in the first half and 12 in the second half. ... The primary base defense in the first half was a 4-3, with Jamie Collins at linebacker in place of the injured Jerod Mayo. Collins played 22 snaps in the first half, but with the Patriots going away from that package in the second half, he only played four snaps in the final 30 minutes. ... For the second time in three weeks, rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones played every snap. He finished with seven tackles (2 for a loss) and a sack. Hard to believe a player claimed on waivers Sept. 11 would be playing such a signifcant role, but Jones has it rolling right now. ... Linebacker Dane Fletcher saw his most extended defensive playing time as the lone pure linebacker in the 4-1-6 dime. Seemed like a good coaching wrinkle to get the speedier Fletcher on the field in that package in place of the bigger Dont'a Hightower, who is more apt to struggle playing in space. It also splits up the mental workload and gives another quality player an ownership stake with a slice of the defense. ... Hightower and Brandon Spikes stayed on the field in the 4-2-5 nickel as the two linebackers. ... In the defensive backfield, cornerback Logan Ryan didn't play a first-half snap (not including special teams) before emerging in a big way in the second half (31 snaps). Would be interesting to learn the coaching staff's mindset on that usage, which had us wondering during the game if it might have been follow-up discipline from last week's touchdown celebration that drew a $10,000 fine. ... Without Aqib Talib, the Patriots turned to Alfonzo Dennard as their top corner, working alongside Kyle Arrington, who bounced back from a tough game last week. ... Safety Steve Gregory wore the green dot on his helmet as he had the communication device to the sideline in his helmet.