The Patriots coaching staff’s latest commentary on edge rusher Chase Winovich is odd.
When you consider the sheer magnitude of free agency departures and player opt outs that the New England Patriots endured on the defensive side of the ball between the start of last offseason and training camp, it would probably behoove head coach Bill Belichick to give his most consistent playmakers the majority of playing time, right?
Well, that maddeningly hasn’t been the case for some guys. The first two that come to mind are cornerback JC Jackson and Chase Winovich, the latter of whom has seen his snap share decrease in each of the last three games after a scorching hot start to the season.
That sort of sample size proves that Winovich’s stupefying lack of playing time isn’t a matter of scheme or game plan. The second-year linebacker has been phased out of the defense and fans in New England have every right to question what prompted that decision.
Unfortunately for the fan base, however, the latest comments from the coaching staff on Winovich won’t do much to put their minds at ease.
"“It’s just been situational,” Bill Belichick told reporters on Monday. “He’ll play. He’s a good player. He’ll play. … It’s just some weekly decisions based on game plans and so forth.”"
We’ll save our takeaways for later, because those weren’t the only comments Belichick provided on Winovich. The 68-year-old HC was asked about him again during an interview with WEEI radio earlier in the week and pretty much said the same thing while stressing that Winovich’s extended time on the bench of late has not been play-related.
"“There’s no issues with Chase,” Belichick added. “Chase is a good player, and he’ll play. Some of it is scheme-related and situation-related. But Chase is a good player, and I’m sure he’ll play.”"
Speaking from experience, Belichick assuring that the 2019 third-round pick will play doesn’t instill confidence in us that he’ll see the field more in Week 9 and beyond. It pains us to admit that, but we’re just speaking from recent history. After playing 37 defensive snaps (66%) against the Chiefs back in Week 4, Winovich has played a total of 40 snaps in the three subsequent games.
See that play? Winovich managed to register a quarterback pressure on one of his five (!) total defensive snaps against Buffalo, so what gives? Our guess is that the Patriots don’t rate his potential as an all-around linebacker and only view him as a pass-rushing specialist. Given their glaring lack of depth on defense, they simply don’t have the luxury of decreasing his role to this extreme.
Whatever the case, Patriots outside linebackers coach Steve Belichick was the next member of the coaching staff to answer questions about Winovich’s increasingly puzzling situation.
"“Chase is doing a good job,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “He continues to improve. He’s a young player that has a lot of good skills. 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.”"
Across the first four games of the season — when Winovich was playing an average of 65.7% snaps per game — he was arguably the Patriots’ best defender, compiling 14 tackles (three for loss), 2.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, and one forced fumble.
For those wondering, the Michigan product still leads the team in sacks and QB hits despite playing 21% of the snaps over the last three weeks.
We want nothing more than to provide closure for Patriots fans, but this coaching staff has established a polarizing reputation for offering next to no insight during media sessions. Until we see an uptick in Winovich’s workload, we simply have no choice but to take their comments with a grain of salt.