The veteran defensive end does not appear on this week’s injury report, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reports this is indeed a performance-based decision. This could well point to the team deeming the pass-rusher a healthy scratch. Sheard saw his playing time drastically reduced against the Seahawks and may now reside on the fringe of the Pats’ edge-rushing contingent.
Playing in just 16 snaps against Seattle compared to taking part in more than 70 percent of New England’s defensive plays in the team’s first eight games this season, no fewer than 35 in any previous contest, Sheard has evidently seen his status change as he enters a stretch run of a contract year. Playing on a two-year, $11MM deal, the former Browns defender is one of the many in the Pats’ glut of 2017 free agents-to-be, and this decision may illustrate where he factors into that pecking order.
Sheard’s 3.5 sacks leave him just shy of his 2015 pace, when he collected eight in a lesser role for a team stocked with better pass-rushers. But he hasn’t thrived upon being given a bigger workload on a team that misses Chandler Jones and one that saw Rob Ninkovich‘s games-played streak end due to suspension and injury.
New England ranks 25th with 16 sacks this season. As a team, the Patriots are well below their 2015 level as a pass rush. Their 49 last season ranked behind only the Broncos, and the team traded away its sack leader in Jones and No. 4 sack artist in Jamie Collins this year. Their replacements haven’t compensated in this critical area, with Ninkovich sitting on one sack after finishing the past five seasons with between 6.5 and eight.
Three of Sheard’s 3.5 came in Weeks 3-4. He remains second on the team, however, behind Trey Flowers‘ four. No other Patriot has more than two. Flowers played 61 snaps last week, with Ninkovich and Chris Long also seeing more work than Sheard, with 46 and 37 snaps, respectively. Geneo Grissom is the only other defensive end on the Pats’ active roster.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.