Patriots Mailbag: Defensive Struggles Showed Dont’a Hightower’s Value

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What a wild, strange, short week at Gillette Stadium.

It’s as if the media covering the New England Patriots are being eased into this strange concept of quarterback injuries and uncertainty. Tom Brady has missed 15 games to injury in his 16-year career, and they all came in 2008 when he tore his ACL. Then Jimmy Garoppolo starts two games, gets injured and now no one knows how the Patriots will handle their quarterback situation this week.

Fortunately, there’s only four days to speculate before the Patriots play the Houston Texans on Thursday night.

Let’s dive into this week’s mailbag.

@DougKyed Were you surprised that the Pats couldn’t get any pass rush in the 2nd half? I thought we would see more from Flowers so far.
— @salvaje50

Yes and no. I expected the Patriots’ defense, and their pass rush in particular, to take a step back without linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who missed Week 2 with a knee injury.

Hightower was the Patriots’ most productive regular pass rusher in 2015, when he pressured the quarterback on 22.4 percent of his pass-rush snaps.

Hightower is a great run defender and solid in coverage, but blitzing is his biggest strength, especially when he only has to get through a running back to reach the passer. Hightower returned to practice Tuesday, so if he’s not ready to go Thursday, he should be by next Sunday.

I also expected slightly more out of Trey Flowers so far. He has been limited by a shoulder injury, however.

@DougKyed Why hasn’t been James White getting more opportunities? What happen to the joker role? I think we are missing that in the O? 🤔
— @Tav2real
White actually is tied with tight end Martellus Bennett for second on the team with 11 targets behind Julian Edelman, who has 18. White’s tied with Chris Hogan and Danny Amendola for third on the team with seven catches.

The Patriots are just able to spread the ball around more this year, since Edelman and Amendola are healthy, and the club also added Bennett, Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell to the offense. New England will spread the ball even thinner when tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Dion Lewis return.

@DougKyed not a mailbag question but do you have a breakdown of where brisset’s targets and completions went Sunday?
— @Jbenz323
Guess what? It’s a mailbag question now, Jbenz323.

Brissett targeted Martellus Bennett and Julian Edelman three times apiece, Chris Hogan twice and James White once.

Bennett had three catches for 68 yards, Chris Hogan had a 12-yard catch, Edelman had a 7-yard catch and White had a 5-yard catch.

Fun fact: Bennett drove to the game with Brissett. Hogan and White might want to hitch a ride Thursday night.

@DougKyed what are the chances we can trade Jimmy to the bears for some draft picks/Alshon? 🤔👀
— @TheSanch12
If the Patriots decide to trade Garoppolo this offseason, which I don’t believe would be a smart move, the Chicago Bears certainly could have interest. The Bears have to be ready to give up on quarterback Jay Cutler soon, and his sprained thumb likely isnt’ persuading them otherwise.

Garoppolo grew up as a Bears fan, so it would be a cool homecoming for the Illinois native.

The Bears would have to slap the franchise tag on Jeffery again next offseason to retain his rights for a trade. He’ll be a free agent otherwise. I would guess the Patriots would move Garoppolo, if they’re so inclined, for draft picks, not a player, but who knows?

@DougKyed after getting a Super Bowl ring ,playing his way to $$ contract this year, quick healing from injury, did jimmy use all 3 wishes?
— @MisterJohnOT
This is a good tweet. Here’s the context:

@DougKyed….Would you allow Bill Belichick to perform surgery on you? #MailDoug

I would!!
— @thebirdman987
Not a chance. I’m not sure if you heard Tuesday, but Belichick isn’t a doctor.

@DougKyed Is the complete arrogance of going into this game with 1 Rookie QB and a WR backup the most wonderfully Belichickian thing ever?
— @TherealFTown
I’ll be shocked — SHOCKED — if Garoppolo isn’t active and the Patriots roll with just one quarterback.

It would be very Belichick-ian if the Patriots do roll with just one quarterback, however, because it would showcase his team’s versatility.

Don’t forget about AJ Derby, too. He played quarterback up until his senior season at Arkansas, when he converted to tight end in 2014. Derby completed 22 of 42 passes for 208 yards with one touchdown and one interception at the FBS level split between Iowa and Arkansas. He went 149 of 321 for 1,935 yards with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions at Coffeyville Community College in 2012.

Edelman hasn’t regularly played quarterback since 2008.

@DougKyed Are the pats corners struggling or do you just have to tip your hat to two receiving corps that are very skilled?
— @HoughtonJustin

I thought Malcolm Butler struggled against the Dolphins. He did have an ankle injury leading into the game, which could have limited him. Logan Ryan’s been fine. He had a tough matchup against Larry Fitzgerald in Week 1, and then most of his yards against came on a one-handed grab by DeVante Parker against the Dolphins. That’s a tough catch for any cornerback to stop.

Butler and Ryan both can prove their early performances have been flukes in Week 3, when they take on Will Fuller and DeAndre Hopkins.

@DougKyed Do the Pats lose McDaniel in the offseason to another team to be their head coach?
— @Kid_From_Quincy
Based on the first two games of this season? Yes, I believe so. What Josh McDaniels has done with Garoppolo is remarkable, and a team like the Detroit Lions or Tennessee Titans would be smart to hire him.

We’ll see what happens in the next two games, and the 12-plus games after that.

@DougKyed short week, Blount had a heavy workload on Sunday. Do Pats at Sankey for Thursday?
— @rhettmcpeake
It seems to make sense to bring Bishop Sankey up from the practice squad, but it would be surprising to see the Patriots carrying five running backs into a game.

I’m just not sure how long Blount will hold up if he’s getting 20-plus carries a game. He had 22 in Week 1, 29 in Week 2, and now the Patriots are playing four days later, and they’ll likely have to go run heavy.

White, D.J. Foster and Brandon Bolden can’t be trusted to carry the ball up the middle like Blount does, and Sankey, a former second-round pick, is just sitting there on the practice squad.

Let’s go rapid fire:

@DougKyed Jamie Collins wildcat QB. Good,bad,crazy? I’ll hang up and listen…
— @LP__81
I like it. He played quarterback in high school and could probably jump over the defensive line for QB sneaks.

@DougKyed do you consider a hotdog a sandwich?

Cc: @JeffWIIM
— @EmersonLotzia
Not a sandwich. Sorry, Emerson.

@DougKyed I think it’s becoming quickly obvious that @JOEL9ONE is a vital part of this Defense, lockeroom, etc and a huge pickup.#maildoug
— @TherealFTown

That’s not really a question at all, but yeah. I’m with you.

@DougKyed Who will be the first Patriots player (not named Blount) to scoring a rushing TD in 2016? #MailDoug
— @DarrylJohnston

Brady.

@DougKyed who has been better at RG, mason or Karras? And who ultimately wins the job?
— @ChefdDds89
Karras by a hair. Jonathan Cooper.

@DougKyed if you had to bet $10 right now on Garoppolo starting on Thursday or not, what are you placing your bet on?
— @DannyGodfrey23
I’ll go with yes. But I’m 51/49 on this one. I think if he’s active, which he will be based on the Patriots not signing another quarterback, it makes sense to start him.

@DougKyed what have you been enjoying more since the split? Raw or smackdown?
— @CAshNEPatriots
I’ve barely had time to watch any wrestling recently. I’ve been watching more “Smackdown,” because I watch “Monday Night Football.” But even with “Smackdown,” I’m barely paying attention.

Thumbnail photo via Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports Images

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