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LB Elandon Roberts plays downhill as his playing time increases

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady ... Rob Gronkowski ... Elandon Roberts.

What links the aforementioned three New England Patriots players?

They have had breakout performances in each of the past two games, with Roberts’ inclusion with the Patriots' two standout offensive players a credit to how he’s seized the opportunity at linebacker as the team’s depth has been thinned with injuries to Jonathan Freeny (shoulder) and Jamie Collins (hip).

A sixth-round draft choice out of the University of Houston, the 6-foot-0, 235-pound Roberts finished with seven tackles in Sunday’s 34-17 win against Cincinnati, as he started in place of Collins.

Similar to Oct. 9 against Cleveland, when he made a strong downhill play by rocking perennial All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, Roberts showed up again against the Bengals with a stop on second-and-1 during the team’s goal-line stand in the second quarter.

"As linebackers, we just play downhill," Roberts said after the game. "It was a double team on the guard, and I was just going downhill to get the guard off our guy. Just playing assignment football, doing my job, coming downhill."

Though Roberts has shown a knack for playing downhill, his playing time is on the incline. He leads off this week’s snap-count analysis:

Total offensive plays: 64

Total defensive plays: 68

LINEBACKER

Dont'a Hightower -- 67

Roberts -- 50

Barkevious Mingo -- 8

Hightower was one of the "up" performers of the game, accomplishing the rare feat of forcing/creating a safety in each of the past two weeks. Mingo was beaten on a stop-and-go move in the second quarter as he has yet to fully work his way into the regular defensive rotation. Hightower also had praise for Roberts, saying on sports radio WEEI on Monday that he is like a "missile, torpedo and hammer." It was notable that Rob Ninkovich played some off-the-line linebacker after Roberts left the game with a head injury, sparking memories of Mike Vrabel moving to that spot in 2005.

SAFETY

Devin McCourty -- 67

Patrick Chung -- 63

Duron Harmon -- 49

Nate Ebner -- 4

The Patriots opened the game by matching the Bengals’ two-tight end package with a three-safety nickel, but later made an adjustment to switch to a three-corner nickel (that seemed to lead to more man coverage). In each of the past two days, head coach Bill Belichick credited McCourty with helping to make sideline adjustments based on what he was seeing on the field, highlighting McCourty’s intelligence.

CORNERBACK

Malcolm Butler -- 66

Logan Ryan -- 66

Eric Rowe -- 26

Rowe initially was playing only in the dime package (six defensive backs) until the in-game adjustment to play him in the nickel as the third cornerback while matching him against Bengals receiver A.J. Green. Top pick Cyrus Jones and second-year player Justin Coleman were both inactive, and Jonathan Jones played solely on special teams.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Alan Branch -- 53

Malcom Brown -- 44

Woodrow Hamilton -- 20

Anthony Johnson -- 10

Branch seemed disruptive at times, and the goal-line stand was a credit to good push up front. But other times, gaps that would normally be accounted for appeared to be compromised a bit as the Bengals ran for 120 yards on 32 carries (3.8 avg.). Those aren’t off-the-charts numbers, but as Vince Wilfork used to say, any time an opponent goes over 100 yards, defensive linemen usually take that personally.

DEFENSIVE END

Jabaal Sheard -- 48

Ninkovich -- 46

Chris Long -- 41

Trey Flowers -- 21

Ninkovich drew a key holding penalty on Bengals right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi on the play preceding Hightower's safety, with Ogbuehi later removed from the game in favor of veteran Eric Winston. Sheard had a half-sack, and Ninkovich (4), Long (3) and Flowers (2) showed up on the tackle stat sheet in a game when the pass rush didn’t seem to be as consistent as desired.

RUNNING BACK

James White -- 39

LeGarrette Blount -- 25

Without Brandon Bolden (knee) and using rookie D.J. Foster solely on special teams, the Patriots were thin at this spot. With Dion Lewis eligible to return to practice this week, it could help the running back numbers if Belichick gives Lewis the green light. White's snap total reflects how this was more of a passing game for New England.

FULLBACK

James Develin -- 8

Light day of work on offense for the hard-charging lead blocker, whose first snap didn’t come until the third quarter when the Patriots went with a heavy look (two TEs, one FB) and threw out of it (Bennett for 24 yards) to kick-start their go-ahead touchdown drive.

OFFENSIVE LINE

LT Nate Solder -- 64

LG Joe Thuney -- 64

C David Andrews -- 64

RG Shaq Mason -- 64

RT Marcus Cannon – 64

Dante Scarnecchia called for more continuity at the start of the season, and he’s getting it. Right guard Tre' Jackson (PUP) is eligible to begin practicing this week.

QUARTERBACK

Brady -- 64

He won’t be happy at the low total of snaps. The goal is to be around 80.

WIDE RECEIVER

Julian Edelman -- 58

Chris Hogan -- 56

Danny Amendola -- 26

Malcolm Mitchell -- 11

Matthew Slater -- 1

Mitchell’s hamstring injury limited his usage as he essentially split time with Amendola as the No. 3 option in the three-receiver package.

TIGHT END

Gronkowski -- 57

Martellus Bennett -- 36

AJ Derby -- 3

Gronkowski was the primary option in the 3-WR/1-TE package, which helps explain the differential in snaps played between him and Bennett. In the first half, Bennett played just 12 snaps. The offensive finding its groove in the second half coincided with Bennett playing more as the Patriots got away a bit from the 3-WR package.