Defensive snaps: No safety net

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
10:45
AM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. – Snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday’s 34-31 loss to the Bills, while analyzing what it might mean (as charted in press box, small margin for error):

S Josh Barrett – 66 of 66
S Sergio Brown – 66 of 66
LB Jerod Mayo – 66 of 66
CB Devin McCourty – 65 of 66
CB Leigh Bodden – 60 of 66
LB/DE Rob Ninkovich – 59 of 66
DL Vince Wilfork – 59 of 66
CB Kyle Arrington – 58 of 66
LB Brandon Spikes – 48 of 66
DL Andre Carter – 41 of 66
DL Shaun Ellis – 37 of 66
DL Kyle Love – 33 of 66
LB Gary Guyton – 18 of 66
DL Landon Cohen – 17 of 66
DE Mark Anderson – 13 of 66
LB Dane Fletcher – 12 of 66
DE Jermaine Cunningham – 7 of 66
CB Antwaun Molden – 1 of 66

(Includes chop block, two holding penalties, and kneel-downs at the end of the game because of their meaning to the outcome.)

ANALYSIS: With Patrick Chung out with a right thumb injury, Josh Barrett and Sergio Brown went wire to wire at safety. Their inexperience showed up late. The Patriots had more experience at the position with Brandon Meriweather and James Sanders, but in releasing those players in the preseason, they were counting on the development of Barrett and Brown. This was a day where the plan didn’t unfold as desired. … Second-year defensive end Jermaine Cunningham was again limited, playing in the goal-line package. With Shaun Ellis (37 snaps) and Andre Carter (41 snaps) not doing much in the pass-rush department, perhaps Cunningham should have been given a chance in the nickel defense. Cunningham played 50 percent of the defensive snaps last season, but he has taken a step back this year at a time when players are supposed to be making a bigger jump. With the Patriots drafting and development warranting some scrutiny, Cunningham (2nd round, 2010) is an interesting case study relating to some struggles Bill Belichick and his staff are having with integrating highly-touted talent into the defense and instead relying on stop-gaps. … Pass rusher Mark Anderson played just two snaps in the second half. No injury was announced at the game. … Linebacker/defensive end Rob Ninkovich is one of the most improved players on the defense. He is emerging as an effective three-down player, and he also saw his special teams workload increase Sunday. … Linebacker Brandon Spikes had a higher playing time total than anticipated, given that the Patriots spent most of the day in a nickel defense (5 defensive backs). Spikes had been a first- and second-down player up to this point, usually coming off in the nickel, which is what the Patriots used for most of the game.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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