The New England Patriots appear to have settled on their replacement for the recently-traded linebacker Jamie Collins and it isn’t rookie Elandon Roberts.
Dont’a Hightower played every snap on defense and it appears that the Patriots are going to pair him with Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin based upon the game scenario.
Van Noy received the start next to Hightower and, according to Pro Football Focus, he dropped into coverage on 18 of his 27 snaps; just 5 of his snaps came against the run. He rushed the quarterback on his other snaps and had success generating pressure. McClellin played 32 snaps with the bulk coming against the run. Roberts only played 4 snaps.
While neither Van Noy, nor McClellin have really made a head-turning play (and to be frank, both have been undressed by running backs on deep passes), they have been playing well enough to not be a liability. More importantly, they have allowed Hightower to focus on attacking the line of scrimmage with more freedom.
Look for Van Noy and McClellin to continue to rotate next to Hightower for the rest of the season, unless one separates from the other with a quality performance. Don’t be surprised if teams catch on to this early and try to run against Van Noy and pass against McClellin. The Patriots would prefer if one player were able to attack the run, drop back into coverage, and rush the passer like Collins was able, but a tag-team is how the Patriots will have to manage in 2016.
Meanwhile, Collins is receiving heat for not playing with the appropriate intensity for the Browns.
Collins (#51) is jogging after Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. While it’s possible that Collins wouldn’t have been able to make a play, a player in a contract season that received criticism from his former team about not playing to his potential should probably try to give 100% on every play to prove his old team wrong.