After eight games, the New England Patriots defense wasn’t performing up to the lofty standards set by head coach Bill Belichick. Belichick made a long list of changes, including benching ED Jabaal Sheard, ED Chris Long, and CB Logan Ryan, but no move was as drastic as sending away LB Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns.
Collins was expected to take his All Pro performance in 2015 and elevate it another level. Instead, he wasn’t putting in the effort the coaching staff needed in a contract year.
The Patriots were expected to promote LB Barkevious Mingo into Collins’ vacated role, after Mingo starred during the preseason, or use rookie LB Elandon Roberts who had started to chip away at Collins’ snaps, or veteran LB Shea McClellin who was finally over some of his early injuries.
One player that flew under the radar was LB Kyle Van Noy, acquired from the Lions late in October. Van Noy was a former 2nd round pick that didn’t fit into the Lions defensive scheme, so the Patriots acquired him for pennies on the dollar. It’s been Van Noy that’s ascended into the starting role and it’s been Van Noy that has the Patriots coaching staff excited about the future.
“I think [Van Noy] started off well right away,” Belichick said on Wednesday. “He came in and learned things and picked things up. Again, with a player like Kyle [Van Noy] part of it is just getting to know him, getting to work with him, getting to know what things he does well, things he picks up on quickly, things that are instinctive to him and maybe things that he hasn’t done before.
“Particularly with a player like Kyle who played primarily at the end of the line at college and played off of the line at Detroit, didn’t rush very much at Detroit, and then we saw him in a little bit of a different role here.”
Belichick compared Van Noy to players like Shea McClellin, Akeem Ayers, and Rosevelt Colvin as other players that were asked to play stand-up linebacker for teams, despite having an apparent strength as an on-the-line player.
“With guys like that you can see why he doesn’t fit in maybe with another situation,” Belichick noted.
Van Noy has been a versatile player in his three games with the Patriots this season. He’s been stout against the run and he’s been the most productive pass rusher for the Patriots over that span. Van Noy is also producing in coverage and he generated a key interception against the Rams.
“Kyle is a pretty athletic player,” Belichick said. “He runs well. I don’t think there’s any question about that. The [interception] was a play that they had run earlier in the game in the first quarter and I think they were trying to throw the over-route to [Brian] Quick and when [Jared] Goff’s arm got hit the ball went like maybe 10 yards behind the receiver. So he was trying to throw it out I would say around the numbers and the ball ended up somewhere between the hash marks in that area, so it ended up being offline by quite a bit. But they were trying to hit the over-route off of the play-action.
“Again, a play they had run earlier in the game and Kyle made a nice adjustment to the ball once it was in the air to, as you mentioned, to be able to slide and jump off-balance and make a clean catch. It was a good play on the ball. He wasn’t really the one covering the pattern.”
Van Noy led the Patriots linebackers in snaps against the Rams and even led the huddle when Dont’a Hightower appeared to suffer a minor injury. In just a short amount of time, it appears that Van Noy has brought much-needed leadership and energy to the defense.
One play in particular stood out as Van Noy made a big stop on 2nd and 10:
Had you seen a Patriots player display this type of energy before the Rams game? Oh, and this play didn’t even count. You can watch the left guard holding DT Alan Branch, setting the Rams further back. That doesn’t matter. Van Noy’s energy was contagious.
“Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game. He’s very cerebral; he’ll ask a lot of questions, he really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great.”
If Van Noy puts together another strong performance against the Ravens, then the Patriots might be able to exhale knowing that the defense has settled down and established a line-up just in type for the playoffs- and Belichick will get a feather in his cap for producing yet another trade deadline steal.