The New England Patriots have been historically dominant on defense this season. Must be because of the Pro Bowl defensive end they traded for in March, right?
One would think. But Michael Bennett was mostly a spectator Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, playing just 11 defensive snaps and failing to record any defensive stats in New England's 35-14 win over the New York Giants.
That snap total, Bennett's lowest of the season, continued a curious trend of decreased playing time for the talented veteran. Here's a look at Bennett's defensive snap totals by week, via Pro Football Reference:
Week 1: 37 (55 percent of total defensive snaps)
Week 2: 25 (40 percent)
Week 3: 19 (38 percent)
Week 4: 24 (30 percent)
Week 5: 14 (25 percent)
Week 6: 11 (22 percent)
Bennett has played in a lower percentage on New England's snaps every week since starting in the season opener. So, what gives?
Even Bennett isn't sure.
"I don’t know what’s happening,” Bennett told Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal after Thursday's game. “You have to ask (head coach) Bill (Belichick). I wish I knew. If I had a better answer, I would tell you."
“You’ve got to ask them, man. I’m just trying to do what they ask me to do."
That doesn't sound like a guy who's thrilled with his current role.
Belichick commended Bennett earlier this week for "embrac(ing) what we've asked him to do," and suggested Bennett's reduced role is simply a byproduct of the team's deep defensive depth chart.
"We rotate a lot," Belichick told reporters Tuesday. "I mean, we’ve played 20 players on defense the last four or five weeks. So naturally, when you start splitting it up between 20 guys, that’s what you’re going to get. Show me how many teams play 20 players on defense."
Defensive ends Deatrich Wise Jr., Chase Winovich and John Simon all out-snapped Bennett on Thursday night. And in truth, the Patriots' defense hasn't really needed him: The unit has allowed just three defensive touchdowns amid a 6-0 start.
It's possible New England is keeping Bennett fresh for its much more challenging schedule down the stretch. Bennett probably is hoping that's the case, as he's not really earning his two-year, $16.75 million contract from a statistical standpoint right now.
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