FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Charting snap counts of players over the course of a season can provide a springboard for deeper analysis. With that in mind, it sparks the following question: Why hasn't former Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler had a greater impact in his first season with the New England Patriots?
When the Patriots beat the Bills Sept. 20, Chandler played 43 of 86 snaps, which reflects how he was a significant part of the game plan. But that has been the exception more than the rule as the season has unfolded.
The 43 snaps for Chandler against Buffalo easily marks a season high, as he is averaging 23.6 snaps per game in the team's 9-0 start.
His season low was a seven-snap game against the Jets Oct. 25. He only played 10 snaps against the Cowboys Oct. 11.
This is a surprise of sorts based on what reporters saw throughout the spring and training camp, when Chandler would often break away with fellow tight end Rob Gronkowski at practice and work in the red zone with quarterback Tom Brady.
Based on that, the idea that the "Twin Towers" two-TE package of the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski and 6-foot-7, 260-pound Chandler would be a big part of the offense was easy to endorse.
Chandler has 13 catches for 137 yards and two touchdowns this season, and here are some thoughts as to why the impact hasn't been as great as forecast:
Inconsistency catching the ball. Sunday's win over the Giants provided a snapshot of the up-and-down season Chandler has had. He delivered with a 1-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, but late in the third quarter he dropped a 23-yard strike from Brady along the right sideline that had Brady breathing fire. The results have been inconsistent when the football is headed his direction. Overall, Chandler hasn't won as many 50-50 type situations as envisioned -- there has been some good (a 26-yard rising grab vs. the Jets up the left sideline early in the third quarter) but also a handful of plays that fall on the other side of the ledger (trying to feed him unsuccessfully twice in a row in Week 2 vs. Buffalo in the end zone).
Offensive line challenges have called for more of a blocking presence. With some of the moving parts along the offensive line due to injuries, especially in recent weeks, the Patriots have called on more blocking from their tight ends. Former offensive tackle Michael Williams helps more than Chandler in that area, and that explains in part why Williams has played more than Chandler (Williams has logged 39 percent of the offensive snaps).
Defensive matchups dictate the approach as well. As a game-plan offense, the Patriots mix and match personnel liberally, and one of the things they look for early in games is how defenses will match up against their two-TE package of Gronkowski/Williams or Gronkowski/Chandler. More often than not, defenses are viewing Chandler as a receiver and thus playing nickel (five defensive backs) against the two-TE package of Gronkowski/Chandler. So in essence, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels then has a call to make: "Do I like my chances with the two-TE package of Gronkowski/Chandler vs. nickel or the three-WR package with receiver Danny Amendola in Chandler's place vs. nickel?" In those situations, the three-WR package has trumped the two-TE package of Gronkowski/Chandler, as it's basically a choice of Amendola vs. Chandler.
Where we go from here. The last few weeks have seen an increase in the Patriots using all three tight ends -- Gronkowski, Williams and Chandler -- on the field together. That usually draws a matchup against base defense, and when that happens, the Patriots could benefit from Chandler rising up and becoming a key contributor as a pass-catcher. That was the package that was on the field Sunday against the Giants when Chandler dropped what would have been a 23-yard reception along the right sideline. The play was right there to be made, coming off play-action out of the run-heavy look.