Dont’a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich Shined as Unsung Heroes in Patriots-Jets Game Based on Film Review

Marquice Cole, Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Tommy KellyIt’s almost time to move past the Jets and on to the Buccaneers.

But before tackling Tampa Bay’s uncertain situation at quarterback, I looked through the coaches film on NFL Game Rewind to find some hidden stars from the Patriots’ Thursday night game against New York.

It was obvious on first watch that the Patriots’ defense played much better than the offense. But what wasn’t obvious was just how much New England’s offensive line struggled against the Jets, especially in the running game.

The Patriots’ running backs couldn’t break free because there was little room to run through. New York did a nice job of collapsing holes and bringing defenders up just past the line. That lack of a running game by the Patriots also affected the passing offense.

On Saturday, I charted drops by receivers, targets in pass coverage and pressure by the front seven in my five takeaways. In my film review, I went position by position highlighting some of the best and worst performances from the Patriots. Check it out below.

QUARTERBACK

Tom Brady didn’t have his strongest game in a Patriots uniform, but it certainly wasn’t as poor as his stats suggested. New England receivers dropped seven passes and displayed some miscommunication with their quarterback a few times.

But Brady was also off on a couple throws. On one play in particular, Kenbrell Thompkins was sprinting down the sideline, gaining separation from Antonio Cromartie when Brady threw off balance with pressure crashing down, underthrowing his rookie by 15 or 20 yards.

It’s a testament to how good Brady is that he didn’t turn the ball over against the Jets despite a rough performance from his receivers and offensive line.

RUNNING BACKS

Stevan Ridley didn’t fumble, which was a plus, but he also only ran for 40 yards on 16 carries. As a whole, the Patriots averaged just 2.3 yards per carry. The backs weren’t as bad as those statistics suggest, but they didn’t do anything special.

The problem was that Ridley, LeGarrette Blount and Leon Washington were not given any space to run by the offensive line and tight ends. James Develin had a couple nice blocks at fullback, but it’s evident that he only began playing the position when he came to the NFL. He was a defensive lineman at Brown. He has a tendency to miss his target at times.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Julian Edelman was the Patriots’ MVP of the game. There’s no doubt about that. He consistently fought for tough yards, gained separation despite double coverage and caught nearly everything that came his way, dropping just one pass.

Thompkins had a better game than his NFL debut. He’s a great route runner and was open on a few plays where Brady just missed him with off throws. As the game wore on, though, Thompkins was getting less separation from the Jets’ defenders. He dropped two passes.

Aaron Dobson had a rough showing. He dropped four passes and failed to fight for one more that was knocked away by the Jets. He was getting open, though, which is certainly a good sign.

This unit will improve. It may take a while, but they will improve.

TIGHT ENDS

It’s pretty obvious the Patriots miss Rob Gronkowski and Zach SudfeldMichael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan are not receiving threats and neither is as strong of a blocker as Gronkowski.

Mulligan missed a block on a Patriots’ running play and Hoomanawanui had good and bad moments mixed in. Both players were better pass blocking than run blocking.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Logan Mankins had the best showing of the Patriots’ line, but it wasn’t a great performance overall against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. The whole unit was giving Ridley no space to run and Brady was pretty consistently pressured all game.

Ryan Wendell had a surprisingly down performance. He was a rock on the line for the Patriots all last season at center. Sebastian Vollmer was better at protecting Brady than he was in run blocking. Neither Dan Connolly or Marcus Cannon stood out positively.

DEFENSIVE ENDS

Rob Ninkovich was quietly one of the stars of the game. He was stout against the run and swung back around to make some big plays in the backfield, stopping New York’s running backs. He gave Geno Smith consistent pressure from the outside, though he failed to register a sack, he had five hurries and one quarterback hit.

Chandler Jones struggled early on against the run, getting pushed back and failing to set the edge. He got better as the game continued, though, and was a monster in the passing game. He had eight overall pressures with two sacks.

Rookie Michael Buchanan had another strong game. He pairs with Jones well on the right side of the line on third down. Buchanan has been the team’s best rookie so far. He had four overall pressures with a sack — the Patriots’ first of the season.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

The Jets were able to run for 129 yards and it was mostly through the middle of the Patriots’ offense. Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly were up and down in their ability to hold their ground against New York’s offensive line. Wilfork was able to get pushed out a surprising amount of times. Kelly was strong in the pass game with two pressures and a sack.

Joe Vellano was a surprise performer in the run game. He struggled in his NFL debut, winding up on the ground far too often. In this game, he plugged his holes and even held up against double teams when he was asked to play the nose for Wilfork. He failed to register a pressure.

LINEBACKERS

Dont’a Hightower had one of the best overall games of any Patriots player. He was stout in the middle of New England’s defense and looked improved in pass coverage from last year, moving around better than he had all of last season. He was able to bump Stephen Hill and Kellen Winslow at the line, throwing off the timing of the Jets’ offense. He was around the ball a lot and did a nice job of limiting Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Hightower is a tough player to move.

Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo were solid, but were able to get pushed around a little bit at the second level by New York offensive linemen. The defense will only get better once both players are back to their normal level of play.

CORNERBACKS

Alfonzo Dennard was extremely good once again, locking down the right sideline for much of the game. It seemed his ankle started bothering him during the fourth quarter, but before then, he was glued to whoever the Jets threw across from him. Dennard allowed three receptions on seven targets for 79 yards, but he was better than those numbers suggest.

Aqib Talib was almost as good. He slipped on a completion to Santonio Holmes, but like Dennard, closes off his side of the field well. The tandem of Dennard and Talib make the Patriots’ safeties jobs pretty easy. Talib came up with two picks, the second of which was a terrible throw by Smith.

Arrington was able to come up with some strong plays. He allowed just 37 yards on three receptions. Arrington is consistently solid while covering the middle of the field from the slot. He’s also a strong tackler and helps out in the run game. Arrington made the initial tip on Talib’s first interception.

SAFETIES

Steve Gregory has been a breath of fresh air this season next to Devin McCourty at safety. The Patriots struggled to find a player to pair with McCourty last year, but so far, Gregory has done everything he needs to do.

Gregory’s rarely out of position and hasn’t missed a tackle in either game. He came up a few times to deliver big hits in the run game. Gregory did fail to track Winslow on a catch in the red zone. He was lucky Winslow slipped in the rain, otherwise, it would have been a touchdown.

Duron Harmon also had a nice showing in his eight snap NFL debut. He limited Winslow to a three-yard reception by reading the play immediately and making a quick break for the ball.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.

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