Defensive snapshot via playing time

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
9:10
PM ET
With a quarter of the season completed, here is a defensive snapshot of player value through the lens of playing time stats (small margin for error):

DEFENSIVE END
Chandler Jones (247 of 273) -- 90.5 percent
Rob Ninkovich (218 of 273) -- 79.9 percent
Jermaine Cunningham (90 of 273) -- 33.0 percent
Trevor Scott (41 of 273) -- 15.0 percent
Jake Bequette (5 of 273) -- 1.8 percent

Quick-hits:
Jones, the first-round pick out of Syracuse, is the clear-cut No. 1 player on the depth chart. He is primarily on the right side, matched up against the opponent's left tackle. ... Ninkovich is the starter at left end, with Cunningham sometimes rotating in. Cunningham also has carved out a niche as an interior rusher in the dime package. ... Scott, who opened training camp as the starter at left end, has slipped to fourth on the depth chart.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Vince Wilfork (226 of 273) -- 82.2 percent
Kyle Love (169 of 273) -- 61.9 percent
Ron Brace (39 of 273) -- 14.3 percent
Brandon Deaderick (29 of 273) -- 10.6 percent
Terrell McClain (16 of 273) -- 5.9 percent
Marcus Forston (8 of 273) -- 2.9 percent

Quick hit: Wilfork played 86.8 percent of the snaps last year, so any thought that maybe the team would significantly reduce his time this year to ease some of the burden hasn't come to fruition. They're still leaning on him heavily. ... Love has spiked from 50.5 percent last season to 61.9 percent through a quarter of the season this year. ... Deaderick opened the year No. 3 on the depth chart, but an ankle injury has sidelined him the last two games. ... The Patriots don't rotate in for Wilfork and Love often on early downs.

LINEBACKER
Jerod Mayo (267 of 273) -- 97.8 percent
Brandon Spikes (190 of 273) -- 69.6 percent
Dont'a Hightower (144 of 273) -- 52.7 percent
Tracy White (8 of 273) -- 2.9 percent
Niko Koutouvides (4 of 273) -- 1.5 percent

Quick hit: Mayo leads the huddle and seldom comes off the field. ... Spikes' work in the nickel defense has upped his playtime total through a quarter of the season, as he played a total of 40.1 percent of the snaps last season (injury a part of that lower percentage). ... Hightower is playing in the base defense (strongside) and also is part of some nickel packages. ... After the top three, a big drop-off. With Hightower injuring his hamstring last Sunday vs. Buffalo, the Patriots probably feel fortunate that veteran Bobby Carpenter was still available.

CORNERBACK
Devin McCourty (272 of 273) -- 99.6 percent
Kyle Arrington (259 of 273) -- 94.9 percent
Sterling Moore (121 of 273) -- 44.3 percent
Ras-I Dowling (45 of 273) -- 16.5 percent
Marquice Cole (13 of 273) -- 4.8 percent

Quick hit: McCourty remains the No. 1 cornerback, playing on the left side. The one play he missed this season came in the season opener (last play, with the outcome in hand). ... Arrington beat out Dowling for the No. 2 job and his rise from practice squad player in 2009 to a starter with a 94.9 percent playing time clip is a credit to his work ethic and growing skills. Arrington moves into the slot in the nickel. ... Moore has served as the fifth defensive back for Games 2, 3 and 4, coming on for the nickel. ... Dowling fell off the map after playing 36 snaps in the season opener as an outside cornerback in the nickel (with Arrington moving in to the slot). The main conclusion to be drawn is that whatever coaches saw in the season-opener (Dowling did get flagged for pass interference), and perhaps the next week in practice, they didn't like.

SAFETY
Patrick Chung (249 of 273) -- 91.2 percent
Steve Gregory (229 of 273) -- 83.9 percent
Tavon Wilson (106 of 273) -- 38.8 percent
Nate Ebner (8 of 273) -- 2.9 percent

Quick hit: This position was a trouble spot in 2011, and the results have been up and down so far in 2012. ... Chung and Gregory were the clear-cut starting tandem through the first quarter of the season, with Wilson rotating in at times in the base defense in Weeks 1 and 4. Gregory is out for Sunday's game against the Broncos, which could expose a lack of depth here. ... Wilson's high playing time total reflects, in part, how he's also part of the dime defense in the "money" position (linebacker-type role). Wilson (2 INTs, 2 fumble recoveries) is the second-round pick from Illinois whom many draft analysts called a reach.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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