Sunday 7: Dont’a Hightower gives reason why Patriots defense is so much better this year

Ryan Hannable
October 27, 2019 - 6:00 am
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1. The Patriots defense is the best in the league right now, allowing just 6.9 points per game. By in large, it is the same exact unit as it was a year ago with the exception of Trey Flowers essentially being replaced with Jamie Collins. While the defense was good a year ago, it is exceptional this year. So, what is the biggest difference? Appearing on ESPN following Monday Night Football, Dont’a Hightower noted Bill Belichick having more of a role and the communication being that much better. “He’s always obviously been a big part in those defensive meetings, but it’s just clear-cut,” Hightower said. “I mean, a lot of times you can get three or four defensive coaches, sometimes things can get misconstrued or whatever. Now, it’s kind of like Bill is running the meeting and, ‘This is what I want, that is how we’re going to do it.’ It is better for us. We understand what he wants as far as philosophy, and it is just easier for us to understand. We have a lot of older guys, and even the younger guys are somewhat like a sponge, so we are able to pick things up a lot quicker and move around and stem and do a lot of different things on defense.” In the past it’s been Matt Patricia and Brian Flores in charge of the defense, but this year it has been a lot more of Belichick.

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2. The Patriots acquired Mohamed Sanu this week and it’s worth wondering how much Tom Brady had to do with the move. While there’s no question the team needed to upgrade the receiver position, Sanu wasn’t the only option. When speaking Friday, Brady noted how just watching film over the years he had a good feeling Sanu would be able to fit into the Patriots’ system. Brady has said multiple times this year he’s just like everyone else and just plays for the team, but it’s worth wondering how much influence he had into the deal.

3. Sanu wasn’t the only move at wide receiver this week. Josh Gordon was placed on injured reserve Wednesday and the team reportedly plans on releasing him when healthy, which could be within the next few weeks or so. There are rumblings the team wanted to just release him, but because he was injured it could not do so. Based on the timeline, it seems like something happened on Wednesday because how could Gordon go from being at practice Wednesday afternoon, after missing all of last week, to being placed on injured reserve just a few hours later?

4. Another move during the week was Michael Bennett being dealt to the Cowboys. The veteran was suspended one game by the team after a disagreement with defensive line coach Bret Bielema likely stemming from his lack of playing time. There was a thought he could come back with a new attitude, but his meeting with the media Wednesday confirmed that was not going to happen. Bennett was then traded late in the day on Thursday. It doesn’t seem like the Patriots defense will suffer much without him given their depth and Bennett's lack of playing time this season.

5. While it came in garbage time, Damien Harris saw his first offensive snaps of the season Monday night against the Jets. The 2019 third-round pick finished with 12 yards on four carries, but ran hard. If Rex Burkhead (foot) is out again, we’d like to see Harris get some more meaningful reps to see what he can do. While Sony Michel had three touchdowns against the Jets, he finished with just 42 yards on 19 carries and overall, the running game can certainly be improved.

6. Tuesday is the NFL trade deadline and everyone is wondering if the Patriots will make another deal. From this viewpoint, they will not. While there are positions that can be upgraded, the issue is the lack of cap space. Following all the moves this week, the Patriots have just under $3 million in cap space. This doesn’t seem like enough to both acquire a player as well as having enough to operate the rest of the year.

7. While the Patriots will be tested more than they have been in awhile Sunday against the Browns, but their biggest test of the season thus far may come next Sunday night in Baltimore against the Ravens. They will be coming off their bye, so they will have plenty of time to prepare for the Patriots on both sides of the ball. It will be fascinating to see how the Patriots defense approaches Lamar Jackson and how Belichick attempts to keep him in check.

Related: Report: Josh Gordon expects to be healthy in 1-2 weeks