BOSTON (CBS) — In the early weeks of the 2020 NFL season, it looked like Chase Winovich was becoming an integral part of the New England defense. The Patriots were letting him loose in every situation and Winovich was answering the call, one of New England’s more productive defensive players from Weeks 1-3.
But the second-year edge rusher’s pursuit of an every down role for the Patriots has been derailed in recent weeks. After playing 37 snaps in New England’s Week 4 loss in Kansas City (66 percent of the Patriots’ defensive plays), his snap count has taken a nose dive over the last month. He’s played just 40 defensive snaps total over New England’s last three games: 22 snaps against Denver (34 percent), 12 snaps against San Francisco (20 percent) and a career-low five snaps in Sunday’s loss to Buffalo (nine percent).
Winovich’s sharp decline in playing time has been a puzzling conundrum for Patriots fans over the last month. Though he still has a lot of work to do when it comes to defending the run, Winovich was still getting after the quarterback in passing situations. He logged 2.5 sacks and six QB hits over the first four weeks, which at the moment, both lead the team.
That’s impressive, considering Winovich has not logged any of those two particular stats in the last three weeks. As his playing time has dried up, so too have his opportunities to get to the quarterback. Bill Belichick has been adamant that Winovich’s decrease in action is not disciplinary, and on Monday, he said that it’s purely situational.
“He’ll play,” Belichick told reporters. “He’s a good player. He’ll play.”
Another Belichick — outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick — said it was not mistakes on the field that is keeping Winovich out of the team’s defensive game plan.
“Chase is doing a good job and he continues to improve. He’s a young player that has a lot of good skills,” the younger Belichick told reporters Tuesday. “We’ve just got to do the right thing for the team and for the game plan, which applies to all the players on the roster and getting them in the spots we want to succeed.”
Belichick said that the 2019 third-round pick is willing to do whatever the team asks of him, and it doesn’t sound like Winovich is throwing a fit about his brief appearances come game day.
“He’s all about the team. He’s a very unselfish guy,” Steve Belichick said Tuesday. “He hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Winovich’s struggles against the run are likely the biggest factor in him going MIA over the last month. He’s not a great defender against the run on a defense as a whole that isn’t great against the run. The Patriots have allowed 140 rushing yards per game, the sixth-worst total in the NFL. They’ve reached new levels of putrid over the past three weeks, with that average ballooning to 174 rush yards per game in losses to Denver, San Francisco and Buffalo.
Teams have taken notice, and they’ve tried to run it down New England’s throats. The Broncos and the 49ers both had 37 rush attempts against New England, while the Bills had 38 last weekend. Those are not situations that the Patriots want to have Winovich on the field at the moment.
Unfortunately for Winovich, those are the situations that teams are trying to (and succeeding in) taking advantage of. That won’t stop until the Patriots prove they can stop the run.
But if the run defense is this bad without Chase WInovich on the field, how much worse could it possibly be with him out there? Maybe at some point soon, we’ll find out.