<
>

Tavon Wilson turns back clock at CB to help Patriots in win

Tavon Wilson (left) and Logan Ryan team up to take down Bills running back LeSean McCoy. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots' coaching staff was resourceful in working around a shortage at cornerback, which led to safety Tavon Wilson playing a season-high 50 snaps in Monday’s win over the Buffalo Bills.

Wilson, who had been No. 5 on the safety depth chart entering the game, had appeared in just nine defensive snaps all season prior to Monday.

"It’s next man up," explained fellow safety Devin McCourty, who noted Wilson’s work against the run. “I feel like year after year, in the game of football, injuries happen but guys [on our team] step up and play well. We have a team of competitive guys who all want to play.”

Wilson, a 2012 second-round draft pick out of Illinois who appealed to the Patriots in part because of his versatility to play some corner, has mostly been a special-teamer and dime linebacker in recent years. In 2015, he’s been behind starters McCourty and Patrick Chung at safety, and also top reserves Duron Harmon and rookie Jordan Richards.

But with the Patriots down to just starters Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan at cornerback, with one backup in Rashaan Melvin, he turned back the clock to his college days to chip in at corner.

His work in the 4-2-5 nickel (with three safeties) and 4-1-6 dime package (with four safeties) was an unsung part of the game plan, and stood out most in this week’s snap-count analysis:

Total defensive snaps: 71

Total offensive snaps: 67

SAFETY

Patrick Chung -- 71

Devin McCourty -- 71

Tavon Wilson -- 50

Duron Harmon -- 23

NOTES: This is the essence of a team when a player like Wilson, whose upbeat approach even when not playing is notable, steps in and performs well. ... Chung’s solid work against the run caught the eye, as did McCourty’s range to help break up a would-be touchdown pass on an underthrown ball.

CORNERBACK

Malcolm Butler -- 71

Logan Ryan -- 71

Rashaan Melvin -- 1

NOTES: When you play more than 75 percent of the defensive snaps in sub, and do so with just two cornerbacks, it requires some creativity and flexibility from other areas of the roster. That ties in to Wilson’s contributions, and also reflects how Melvin -- who struggled Nov. 15 against the Giants -- was viewed as only an emergency option in the plan. ... Butler and Ryan continue to compete at a high level. Their growth as a 1-2 combination has been easy to see in recent weeks.

LINEBACKER

Dont’a Hightower -- 71

Jonathan Freeny -- 53

Jerod Mayo -- 16

NOTES: The Patriots opened the game in more base packages against the Bills’ two-receiver package, with a focus on stopping the run, and that led to some early snaps for Mayo. He was productive as his impact on defense is growing. But as it turned into more of a “sub” game, the Patriots still played Freeny over him alongside Hightower.

DEFENSIVE END

Chandler Jones -- 63

Rob Ninkovich -- 52

Jabaal Sheard -- 48

NOTES: In his return from an ankle injury last week, Sheard played 24 snaps. By doubling his total, it’s a sign that he’s rounding into form. This is a solid three-man rotation and Ninkovich had a couple of big hits in the game to go along with his 1.5 sacks. Jones had a chance for sack No. 11.5, but Tyrod Taylor slipped out of his grasp on one third-down play.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Malcom Brown -- 38

Alan Branch -- 35

Dominique Easley -- 31

Akiem Hicks -- 16

NOTES: Sealver Siliga was a healthy scratch, and with Chris Jones facing a deadline to come off the PUP list Tuesday (or stay on IR), his status on the roster bears watching. ... Brown, the 2015 first-round pick, continues to log the majority of snaps among the “big” defensive tackles. ... Easley was used mostly in the sub packages.

OFFENSIVE LINE

G Josh Kline -- 67

T Marcus Cannon -- 67

G Shaq Mason -- 61

T Sebastian Vollmer -- 55

C/G Bryan Stork -- 51

C David Andrews -- 23

RT Cameron Fleming -- 12

NOTES: Andrews, the undrafted free agent from Georgia, had his streak of playing every snap this season snapped when he was replaced by Stork in the second quarter. He rotated in for a series in the second half, but it looks like Stork will be back in the pivot moving forward. ... Vollmer didn’t play the first series, before settling in the rest of the way. ... Cannon had a challenging night at left tackle, which could have been a result in part of knocking off some rust. At the same time, does the team consider moving Vollmer over to the left side?

TIGHT END

Rob Gronkowski -- 67

Scott Chandler -- 35

Michael Williams -- 23

NOTES: Chandler played five snaps in the first half and 30 in the second half, which reflects how the Patriots had to call on more multiple tight-end packages due to their receiver shortage with Aaron Dobson (ankle) and Danny Amendola (knee) leaving the game and not returning.

WIDE RECEIVER

Brandon LaFell -- 48

Danny Amendola -- 44

Chris Harper -- 30

Aaron Dobson -- 20

NOTES: The Patriots surprised by opening the game with Dobson, Amendola and Harper as the top three options. But after the injuries, LaFell ended up topping the playing-time chart because he and Harper were the only pure receivers. I wouldn’t read too much into the depth chart, as this was probably a case of the Patriots giving everyone a chance and managing their health in the process (e.g. Dobson was working through a back issue).

RUNNING BACK

LeGarrette Blount -- 37

James White -- 18

Brandon Bolden -- 12

NOTES: Blount had played just seven snaps against the Bills on Sept. 20, so this reflected a change in approach for the Patriots, who went with a pass-first plan the first time around (Dion Lewis had played 73 snaps that day). Still, Blount was split out wide at times in this game, which is a bit different than his traditional usage.

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady -- 67

NOTES: In-game statisticians charted 10 hits on Brady, but it felt like more.