Coming into his second year in the NFL after a promising rookie campaign, defensive end Chase Winovich was looking forward to a greater opportunity on the field in 2020.
With key departures on the defensive side of the ball for New England this offseason, many expected Winovich to step up in Year Two, and he did just that in Week 1 against the Miami Dolphins.
Winovich had six tackles, including one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit, in 42 defensive snaps played in the Patriots’ 21-11 win over the Dolphins. But the degree to which his role expanded, evidenced by the snap he took aligned as a nose tackle in a goal-line situation, took many by surprise, including Winovich himself.
“It definitely wasn’t expected, but it worked really well in camp,” Winovich said when asked about moonlighting as a nose tackle in Week 1. “And it was one of those things that I’m not sure of Coach’s inspiration for it, but he told me to go down there, and I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna do the best I can and kind of use my skillset in kind of an untraditional manner for that position at that part of the field.’
“It’s pretty interesting being down there, some big boys in there, I’ll tell you what. But it was fun.”
Replacing the production of Jamie Collins, Kyle Van Noy and Danny Shelton was expected to be a group effort, split amongst the likes of Winovich, John Simon, Shilique Calhoun, Brandon Copeland, and other Patriots front-seven defenders.
But Winovich’s production in Week 1, coupled with how much playing time he received, indicates that Winovich may be ahead of schedule in his development as an NFL player. Winovich’s Week 1 performance is a promising sign for a defense that will need several players to step up in 2020 to carry over its elite performance from 2019.
Winovich’s played 42 snaps in Week 1 accounted for 68 percent of all defensive snaps for his team. That’s a dramatic uptick in playing time for a second-year player who was on the field for just under 29 percent of his team’s defensive snaps in 2019, where he primarily served as a situational pass rusher on third downs.
Winovich attacked his first full NFL offseason with the goal of getting stronger so that he could be relied on in more than just passing situations, and hold up better as a run defender.
“Whenever I got to New England, I realized the version that I needed to be wasn’t what I currently was, and so I had to kind of expand. And part of that process is recognizing some of your weaknesses,” Winovich said. “And I felt like just watching the film from yesterday [against Miami], and I think this is a relatively general observation, I look stronger, I look bigger, I feel like my technique was better.”
If Winovich can maintain — or even elevate — his production from last season while upping his playing time, that raises the ceiling for a Patriots defense that has faced some questions about their pass rush in 2020.
In 2019, the Patriots defense had a pass rush win rate of 40 percent, according to ESPN Analytics, which was tied for 22nd in the NFL with the Chicago Bears. If Winovich, who is best as a pass rusher, can stay on the field for early downs too, that will benefit a defense who can use all the pass rush help it can get.
“I think Chase has been a good player for us, and that he played well last year,” Bill Belichick said. “We had some other experienced players last year, Kyle [Van Noy] and Jamie [Collins], and so there was just some other players playing ahead of him and now he’s the most experience player along with John Simon, so that shifted quickly in a year, but Chase has done a good job for us on all downs. When he played last year he was productive on a per-play basis and I thought he showed that today [against Miami].”
It’s only been one week, but the New England defense is ranked fifth in defensive DVOA by Football Outsiders. Its pass defense DVOA is ranked third, a sign that the team’s secondary got the job done, with the help of a pass rush bolstered by the strong play of Winovich.
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