The New England Patriots made small headlines this morning when a report broke that the team was shopping EDGE Kony Ealy. The fact that the team is dangerously thin on the edge and still considering moving Ealy is a serious indictment on what they believe he brings to the team.
But when you look at what other edge defenders bring to the team with regards to versatility in the Patriots 5-man front and overall team contributions, letting Ealy and his zero special teams snaps go could be the most sound roster-building decision to make.
I decided to look back at Ealy’s production on the opening drive against the Houston Texans and their starting offense to see what value he adds to the New England defense, and whether the team should be so quick to move on.
Over the course of the whole game, Kony Ealy played 42 snaps, second-most of Patriots defenders, and didn’t record a stat other than a neutral zone infraction (he had a quarterback hit taken back after Kyle Van Noy planted Texans QB Tom Savage into the turf).
But while Ealy didn’t record a tackle of his own, I saw a player that was stout at the line of scrimmage and on the edge, that redirected running backs to the inside, and that generated enough pressure to force the opposing quarterback to move inside the pocket and into the clutches of another defender.
1-5-HST 34 (13:27) (Shotgun) L.Miller left tackle to HST 36 for 2 yards (M.Brown).
This play comes immediately after Ealy jumped the snap and was called for a neutral zone infraction. He’s lined up as a standard 4-3 defensive end opposite the left tackle.
Ealy’s first move is to play wide and remove the outside run for the running back. This causes the running back to read a possible lane between Ealy and DT Malcom Brown.
LB Kyle Van Noy crashes the line of scrimmage to prevent the center from double-teaming Brown and Brown does an outstanding job of shedding his blocker to make the tackle. Ealy uses his power to hold his gap and to ensure the ballcarrier stays to the inside, right into the clutches of Brown.
This isn’t a dominant play by Ealy by any means, but he does his job (!!) well and allows another player to make the stop. That type of a cog in a defense has plenty of value.
1-10-NE 12 (12:11) (Shotgun) T.Savage sacked at NE 19 for -7 yards (L.Guy).
The Patriots are again in the 4-3 front with EDGE Harvey Langi standing opposite of Ealy on the defensive line. Ealy is again lined up against the left tackle.
Ealy flashes impressive burst off the snap and immediately drives the tackle to a shorter depth than where QB Tom Savage drops back; the Texans left guard even tries to help. This creates a straight line for Ealy to turn and run unhindered towards Savage.
Savage steps up in the pocket, right into the clutches of DT Lawrence Guy, who bullrushed his guard back into the pocket.
Again, Ealy doesn’t record a sack, but he forced Savage to feel uncomfortable in the pocket and set the Texans up for a difficult second-and-17 from which they couldn’t recover.
4-6-NE 8 (10:40) L.Miller up the middle to NE 6 for 2 yards (L.Guy).
The Texans could have easily chipped in a field goal, but they opted to try and score on fourth-and-6. Ealy is again the 4-3 defensive end opposite the left tackle.
Houston runs a delayed draw with Savage providing a small pump fake. Ealy originally wants to pin his ears back and go after the quarterback, but reads the play quickly, sliding back into his run defense.
With the Patriots expecting the Texans to throw the ball, the linebackers are unable to crash the line of scrimmage, allowing the Texans double-team Brown with the left guard and center. The Texans are hoping that Ealy runs himself out of the play, chasing the quarterback, allowing the left tackle can move up the field to block Kyle Van Noy. Since Ealy is on the weakside of the formation (opposite the tight end), he is responsible for taking away the cutback lane.
Lawrence Guy does a nice job of removing any run towards the right side of the formation by pushing the right guard backwards. This causes the running back to bounce back to the left.
Ealy did a nice job of recovering and closing the cutback lane so the only place for the running back to go is into the waiting arms of Kyle Van Noy. The running back stalls and waits for a lane to open, but Guy works his way through the traffic and makes the stop.
In all three of these plays, Ealy does a good job in doing his job and allowing other players to do their own. Sure, he doesn’t record a tackle for loss or a quarterback hit, but if played any of these at a lower level, then the Texans could have gained more yards, converted a first down, or even scored.
Still, it wasn’t all good for Ealy; he played much more than just this opening drive. He lined up against the Texans second- and third-stringers, where he should’ve had much more success and he didn’t produce. A player that is supposed to start for the reigning Super Bowl champions should probably show up on the stat sheet against some Texans players that might not make the final roster.
Ealy will have plenty of chances to prove his value on Friday night against the Detroit Lions. If he can build off of his small victories against the Texans and make a flashy play or two, then I think the Patriots will be happy to keep Ealy in the edge defender rotation.