In the aftermath of the Vince Wilfork injury, rookie free agent defensive tackle Joe Vellano was thrust into the starting line-up against the Bengals in week four. Vellano did flash at times with a couple of solid rushes and one nice stop on BenJarvus Green-Ellis. However, as ProFootballFocus.com points out, he wasn’t stellar as a whole against the run:
Generally viewed as perhaps the most irreplaceable player on the Patriots’ defense, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork had season-ending surgery this week on a torn Achilles. New England entered the season with a less-than-full cupboard at the position, so much of the pressure has been put on undrafted defensive tackle Joe Vellano. Early returns were not good, as Vellano was easily moved in the running game at times on his way to a -6.1 grade against the run. It started on the Bengals’ first play from scrimmage as Vellano was moved off his spot by center Kyle Cook to open a hole for a 13-yard gain for Green-Ellis. It was more of the same later in the quarter with 1:37 to go as this time Vellano got sent to the ground by Cook and left guard Clint Boling with a similar 13-yard result. Fast forward to the 11:32 mark of the fourth quarter and Cook once again had his way with Vellano to open a gaping hole up front. While Vellano did have some positive moments as a pass rusher, his weakness at the point of attack was evident throughout the game.
This will be an area to watch Vellano going forward. At some point, I do think the Patriots should pick up an “anchor” type of defensive tackle to assist on 1st and second downs (think Casey Hampton or Sione Po’uha). Vellano has shown that he can be a capable sub-package player with notable quickness and good hands – but teams will continue to attack the middle of the Patriots defense as long as he is in the line-up. The Patriots try to make up for Vellano’s deficiencies by blitzing Brandon Spikes a lot, but that can’t be a long term solution.