Snaps: Patriots defense at midpoint

November, 8, 2013
11/08/13
10:00
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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:

DEFENSIVE END
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.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE
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.

LINEBACKER
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.

CORNERBACK
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.

SAFETY
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.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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