'Big nickel' didn't pay off for Patriots in Super Bowl LII

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Many New England Patriots fans are moving on quickly from the disappointment of Super Bowl LII, and with last week's return from Minnesota and some unexpected news with Malcolm Butler, Josh McDaniels and others, it pushed back some of the reviews of the game.

Nonetheless, it is important to follow through on game review before officially turning the page. Over the next few days, my plan is to review the Super Bowl again, stay on the Butler trail for any more clarity on his surprising non-role in the game, and relay any nuggets along the way.

Using this as a springboard, here is the Super Bowl LII snap-count analysis:

Offense: 76
Defense: 75


Devin McCourty: 75
Duron Harmon: 65
Patrick Chung: 63
Jordan Richards: 16

With McCourty, Harmon and Chung on the field for almost all of the snaps before Chung departed with a head injury in the second half, it reflected how this was a game played primarily in the "big nickel" package with three safeties. That is a package the Patriots sometimes call on when they hope to be sturdy enough against the run with a lighter box (six players), but athletic/fast enough on the back end to be competitive against the pass. All three top safeties would probably agree this wasn't their A-plus performance. As for Richards, he came on when the team went to the dime (six defensive backs) and was in more of a linebacker-type role. On Corey Clement's wheel route that went for 55 yards late in the second quarter, Richards took a poor angle that was costly.


Stephon Gilmore: 75
Eric Rowe: 72
Johnson Bademosi: 10
Malcolm Butler: 0

Easily the most surprising part of the game plan was to not play Butler, and the quest for credible facts that provide more context to the decision continues. As the play-time numbers show, this was a two-corner game for the Patriots, who relied more on their safeties in sub packages. Gilmore was one of the best defenders on the field. If Gilmore or Rowe had been injured, one would think Butler would have received the call.


Kyle Van Noy: 75
James Harrison: 69
Elandon Roberts: 44
Marquis Flowers: 18

With the Patriots relying on Harrison as much as they did, it decisively buried the idea that the team had initially signed him for some form of Steelers-based intelligence. That the team relied on him so heavily was instead reflective of a dire personnel situation; when a player is signed Dec. 26 and playing 69 snaps in the Super Bowl about a month later, that's usually not good. Harrison predictably struggled at times in the Super Bowl.


Trey Flowers: 75
Eric Lee: 16
Deatrich Wise Jr.: 6

Flowers didn't generate much pass rush, which might have been due, in part, to the focus on playing the run first. Lee was part of a different variation of the "big nickel" when the Patriots brought him on the field instead of Roberts at linebacker.


Malcom Brown: 62
Lawrence Guy: 56
Ricky Jean Francois: 15
Adam Butler: 13

The Patriots were asking a lot of their big guys in the middle to provide resistance in a lighter box, and it didn't seem to work out well for them. While the team adopted more of a liberal three-man rotation during the regular season, the coaching staff tightened things up and mostly relied on Brown and Guy in the Super Bowl. Jean Francois was the third option over Alan Branch (inactive), which might be a sign that Branch's time with the team is coming to an end.


Rob Gronkowski: 76
Dwayne Allen: 2

Playing every snap, Gronkowski showed that the concussion he had sustained in the AFC Championship Game wasn't limiting him. With Allen playing just two snaps, it reflected a few things: 1. The team ran just two plays with multiple tight ends on the field; 2. The preseason projection that Allen would help in the red zone never came to fruition; 3. Allen's return to the team in 2018, with a $4.5 million base salary, seems unlikely at that figure.


Chris Hogan: 71
Danny Amendola: 62
Phillip Dorsett: 50
Brandin Cooks: 18
Matthew Slater: 1

Cooks being knocked out of the game with a head injury in the second quarter opened the door for Dorsett, Amendola and Hogan to increase their workload. As the numbers show, the Patriots spent the majority of the game in the three-receiver set. It's a pass-first approach and the team rung up 505 passing yards. Some early-game struggles in the red zone came back to hurt them, as it was a game in which the offense had to be near perfect because of the defensive struggles.


James White: 45
Dion Lewis: 21
Rex Burkhead: 9
Brandon Bolden: 1

Burkhead essentially got one series each half as part of a rotation, but in the end it was mostly White because it became a passing game and he's the passing back.


James Develin: 24

Develin was utilized in lieu of a second tight end, sometimes split out wide to give Tom Brady a better pre-snap read on the Eagles' coverage.


LT Nate Solder: 76
LG Joe Thuney: 76
C David Andrews: 76
RG Shaq Mason: 76
RT Cameron Fleming: 76

This group performed admirably against a tough pass rush, with one of the few blemishes at the end when Mason -- arguably the team's most consistent linemen all year -- was beaten by Brandon Graham on the strip sack.


Tom Brady: 76

He turned in a strong performance, showing that even at age 40, he's still at the top of his game.