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Jerod Mayo, Jonathan Freeny stepped in to fill Dont'a Hightower void

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The trickle-down effect of New England Patriots starting linebacker Dont'a Hightower leaving Sunday’s 30-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys with a rib injury in the first quarter was that Jerod Mayo and Jonathan Freeny were relied upon more.

Mayo played a season-high 29 snaps after averaging 14.6 snaps per contest through the first three games.

Freeney played a season-high 25 snaps after averaging just five defensive snaps per game over that same span.

Hightower wasn’t in the locker room when reporters were present after the game, so there wasn’t a chance to ask him about the severity of the rib injury.

Overall, the Patriots’ defensive plan was successful.

“We knew we were going to get a lot of single-high [safety]. They scattered in a couple two-deep zones and we had some situations that they maybe hadn’t done in the last few weeks,” Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “They are a game-plan defense. I had a feeling they were going to take away [Jason] Witten and [Cole] Beasley, and that’s what their plan was.”

The Patriots’ fallback plan at linebacker with Mayo and Freeny is what stands out most in this week’s snaps analysis.

Total defensive snaps: 72

Total offensive snaps: 59

LINEBACKER

Jamie Collins -- 72

Mayo -- 29

Freeny -- 25

Hightower -- 9

NOTES: Collins was one of the star performers of the game. … A Collins-Mayo-Hightower trio was paired in the base 4-3 defense, which was called on more often earlier in the game when it was still close. It quickly became a sub game after that, with Mayo and Freeny essentially splitting Hightower’s normal duties.

DEFENSIVE END

Chandler Jones -- 57

Rob Ninkovich -- 54

Jabaal Sheard -- 46

NOTES: Jones can expect some ribbing for teammates for when he dropped an easy interception on a rare second-half play when he was in the deep part of the field. Jones, of course, isn’t a regular in dropping that deep into coverage. … Sheard, with three tackles (two for loss) and two sacks, continues to be a quality free-agent signing. He overcame an early defensive holding penalty to have a productive day.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Alan Branch -- 23

Malcom Brown -- 23

Dominique Easley -- 19

Sealver Siliga -- 18

Akiem Hicks -- 18

Geneo Grissom -- 9

NOTES: There was essentially a rotation between four big-bodied tackles inside, with Siliga and Branch paired together to open the game, and then a Hicks-Brown combination coming on after two series to give them a breather. … Easley was used mostly, if not all, in sub packages as the Patriots wanted two “bigs” in the game early as part of the focus on stopping the run. Easley, at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, is a smaller, quicker tackle.

CORNERBACK

Malcolm Butler -- 72

Logan Ryan -- 47

Tarell Brown -- 45

Justin Coleman -- 26

NOTES: The breakdown highlights how Butler is the clear-cut No. 1 option. It appeared as if he was shadowing Terrance Williams for a good portion of the game, and Williams was mostly held in check (two catches, 30 yards). … Ryan earned the start opposite Butler and once again showed good ball skills with his late interception. … Brown and Coleman were part of a specific sub package, and often entered the game together, with Ryan coming off along with a linebacker.

SAFETY

Devin McCourty -- 72

Patrick Chung -- 64

Duron Harmon -- 41

Jordan Richards -- 22

Nate Ebner -- 1

NOTES: McCourty had a different assignment than the norm, often playing down in the box and sometimes checking tight end Jason Witten. He was effective. When McCourty took on those responsibilities, Harmon usually was the single-high safety. As ESPN.com NFL Insider Field Yates noted during the game, Harmon’s improvement in half-field looks is notable from his 2013 rookie season. … Ebner’s one snap came when Harmon briefly left the game in the third quarter; Ebner usually shows up only on special teams.

OFFENSIVE LINE

C David Andrews -- 59

RT Sebastian Vollmer -- 56

G Josh Kline -- 48

G Shaq Mason -- 42

OT Marcus Cannon -- 40

RG Tre Jackson -- 32

LT Nate Solder -- 25

NOTES: Andrews keeps his streak alive as the only Patriots offensive player to be on the field for every snap this season. … Cannon played the entire second half at left tackle and proved his value to the team as an emergency backup. The Patriots continued to rotate combinations early in the game, as they’ve done all season, and having Cannon ready for that situation was a credit to him and the coaching staff.

TIGHT END

Rob Gronkowski -- 57

Michael Williams -- 20

Scott Chandler -- 10

NOTES: A surprisingly low total for Chandler, but it is explained, in part, with how the Patriots spent a good portion of the game in the three-receiver set. But the fact Williams (who is more of a blocker than a pass-catcher) was the choice over him in most two-tight-end sets caught the eye. … The Cowboys did a solid job overall on Gronkowski (four catches, 67 yards), whose impact on the game was mostly felt on the first drive of the third quarter.

WIDE RECEIVER

Julian Edelman -- 51

Keshawn Martin -- 50

Danny Amendola -- 36

Matthew Slater -- 3

NOTES: Martin over Aaron Dobson (inactive) as the top outside receiver opposite Edelman was a pregame decision that was notable. Martin had six catches in 16 games last season for the Texans; he already has five in two games for the Patriots. Think he feels fortunate to be catching passes from Tom Brady? … The Patriots had one long play to Slater in the game-plan late in the second quarter, and then he was on for kneel-downs.

RUNNING BACK

Dion Lewis -- 42

LeGarrette Blount -- 17

James White -- 2

NOTES: Lewis has now played 196 of 287 offensive snaps this season, as his stock has risen from a player who was out of the game in 2014 and is now a key cog in the offense. …Eleven of Blount’s 17 snaps came in the second half as once again, he was used in a “closer” type of role.

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady -- 57

Jimmy Garoppolo -- 2

NOTES: Garoppolo took the final two kneel-downs.