By now you probably have heard that the New England Patriots defense is struggling with consistency so far this season: the unit looks stellar one week, only to suffer from fundamental breakdowns and communication errors the next. This inconsistency is not limited to the play itself but also can be witnessed in another area. Through 10 weeks, the team has not found a player to permanently serve as its defensive on-field signal caller.
Overall, the Patriots have used three men to call signals this year: veterans Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, and rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley. While the latter only called the shots during the first half of the team’s week three game in Detroit — one during which he suffered a season-ending biceps injury —, Hightower and Van Noy have seen regular playing time with the green dot on their respective helmets.
A week-by-week breakdown illustrates just how often this responsibility has shifted back and forth between the two starters:
Week 1 (vs Houston Texans): Dont’a Hightower
Week 2 (at Jacksonville Jaguars): Kyle Van Noy
Week 3 (at Detroit Lions): Ja’Whaun Bentley / Dont’a Hightower
Week 4 (vs Miami Dolphins): Dont’a Hightower
Week 5 (vs Indianapolis Colts): Dont’a Hightower / Kyle Van Noy
Week 6 (vs Kansas City Chiefs): Dont’a Hightower / Kyle Van Noy
Week 7 (at Chicago Bears): Dont’a Hightower
Week 8 (at Buffalo Bills): Kyle Van Noy
Week 9 (vs Green Bay Packers): Kyle Van Noy / Dont’a Hightower
Week 10 (at Tennessee Titans): Kyle Van Noy / Dont’a Hightower
While Hightower wore the communication device in his helmet on eight different occasions, Van Noy served as the signal caller six times. Having multiple options to fill this role and serve as the lead caller in the middle of the defense — especially considering Hightower’s injury history — is certainly a smart move by the Patriots’ staff. The question is how or if this approach will continue moving forward.
Last year, New England started the season with Van Noy calling the shots before Hightower was handed the proverbial wheel to guide the unit. When the former first-round draft pick went to season-ending injured reserve after week seven, Van Noy took over again. This year is a bit different: while Hightower missed the Patriots’ week eight game versus the Buffalo Bills, he and Van Noy have been relatively healthy.
Despite the two linebackers being available, New England’s coaching staff decided to have the both of them serve as signal callers. It will be interesting to see if this changes coming out of the bye, or if the Patriots see benefit in continuing having both call the defense from their spots in the middle of the field — and if a change in this area might also lead to improved overall consistency up front.