Defensive snaps: DB depth shows up

Snaps played by Patriots defenders in Sunday’s 30-27 win over the Saints, while analyzing what it means (small margin for error, as charted in the press box):

DE Chandler Jones – 66 of 66

DT Chris Jones – 66 of 66

DE Rob Ninkovich – 66 of 66

CB Alfonzo Dennard – 65 of 66

LB Jerod Mayo – 59 of 66

S Devin McCourty – 59 of 66

S Steve Gregory – 57 of 66

DT Joe Vellano – 56 of 66

CB Kyle Arrington – 49 of 66

LB Brandon Spikes – 48 of 66

CB Aqib Talib – 36 of 66

CB Logan Ryan – 33 of 66

LB Dont’a Hightower – 24 of 66

S Duron Harmon – 14 of 66

DE Michael Buchanan – 8 of 66

LB Dane Fletcher – 7 of 66

LB Jamie Collins – 6 of 66

DT Marcus Forston – 6 of 66

(Penalties included. Snaps are one shy as Patriots ran one play with 10 defenders on the field – a 25-yard catch by Benjamin Watson in the first quarter.)

ANALYSIS: This performance highlighted the depth and improvement in the secondary in 2013, as the Patriots went seven players deep, spending most of the game in either their nickel (5 defensive backs) or dime package (6 defensive backs) as they essentially viewed Saints tight ends Jimmy Graham and Benjamin Watson as receivers. Third-round draft choices Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon played critical snaps and held their ground. Harmon’s playing time came after CB Aqib Talib left with injury in the third quarter, with the Patriots moving Devin McCourty into Talib’s role against Graham. … One game-specific wrinkle was a four-cornerback nickel package, which looked like a game-planning matchup against the Saints’ three-receiver grouping. … Surprising to see Chris Jones play every snap at defensive tackle; he is a rookie on his third team this year who the Patriots claimed on waivers Sept. 11. It’s a credit to Jones, and also to defensive line coach Patrick Graham. … For the second week in a row, Brandon Spikes has played more snaps than Dont’a Hightower. That could be a residual effect of losing Vince Wilfork and the coaches now placing a greater value on Spikes’ downhill play against the run without Wilfork clogging things up in the middle. ... The 66 snaps were the second fewest played by the defense this season (64 vs. Buffalo on Sept. 8).