Perry: Uncharacteristic substitution issues plaguing Patriots on D


It's not something anyone is accustomed to seeing from Bill Belichick-coached teams. But over the last few weeks there have been some substitution issues that the team has had to work through on the defensive side of the ball.

The latest came on the first play of the second half Sunday against the Bills. When Buffalo broke its offensive huddle, the Patriots took their places on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage. Then Adrian Phillips noticed something was off.

The first-year Patriots safety, who has been playing a linebacker role this season, turned to the sideline and turned his palms to the sky as if asking for some help. The team had just 10 players on the field, and they were missing middle linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley. 

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Moments later, as the ball was snapped, rookie 'backer Josh Uche sprinted from the sidelines and got into the play. 

It was the second time in as many weeks that the Patriots had 10 players on the field for a defensive snap. In Week 7, against the Niners, they had only 10 for the fourth play of the game. Jimmy Garoppolo hit George Kittle for a seven-yard gain as the Patriots appeared to go without an outside linebacker.

In Week 3, the Patriots used four timeouts against the Raiders in an apparent effort to buy themselves more time to avoid a substitution error and possible penalty.

Belichick explained why on Sunday there required a late reaction from Uche to make sure the Patriots had a full complement of defenders available to them.


"Yeah, [Bentley] didn’t come out for the start of the second half and we just weren’t aware that he wasn’t out there," Belichick said. "Then he was out there, but it was not until the next play. 

"He was in the locker room dealing with something in the locker room and came out as quickly as he could. We just weren’t aware of it. I mean, we all thought he was there and then he wasn’t there. Josh actually was the first one to recognize it pretty alertly and got on the field. It wasn’t an injury problem per se, but he just wasn’t there."

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The linebacker group, even when fully-stocked, had a rough outing in Buffalo. They came home with a "D" in our Week 8 report card as the Bills -- who came into the game as one of the league's least-productive running teams -- racked up nearly 200 yards on the ground and 5.0 yards per carry.

Uche saw 12 snaps in the game, playing half against the run, and stopping quarterback Josh Allen for a short scramble on one. He also laid a hit on Allen that helped the Patriots on one third-down snap. Uche was a versatile on-the-line and off-the-line athlete at Michigan and could be counted on to do more now that his pro debut is behind him.

Fellow rookie linebacker Anfernee Jennings appears to be a base-defense option at the moment and didn't see the field against Buffalo's three and four-receiver sets Sunday. 

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"You know, [Uche] played a handful of plays," Belichick said Monday. "There were some positive things and, as you would expect, there were some things that he can improve on. But, it was good to have him out there. He’ll keep working hard, he’s a hard-working kid, gives us great effort every day, so we’ll keep working and see where it goes from here."