FOXBORO, Mass. — How did the New England Patriots fill the sizable void left by Jamie Collins’ departure? With a whole lot of Elandon Roberts, mostly.
Roberts started in Collins’ usual spot and played a career-high 83 percent of defensive snaps Sunday night in New England’s first game following Collins’ stunning trade to the Cleveland Browns. The results were less than ideal.
The Patriots slogged through their worst defensive effort of the season in a 31-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, allowing 420 total yards and more points than they had in a game all season.
Roberts’ play in Collins’ stead wasn’t terrible by any means, but the rookie linebacker did struggle at times. He recorded just four tackles and was burned by first-year Seahawks running back C.J. Prosise for a 38-yard gain on third down early in the fourth quarter. It was Seattle’s second-longest play from scrimmage and the highlight of a breakout game for Prosise, who led the Seahawks in both rushing (66 yards on 17 carries) and receiving (87 yards on seven catches).
Prosise’s pickup also was just one example of the Patriots’ defense surrendering massive chunks of yardage in the passing game. Six different Seahawks receivers caught passes of 18 or more yards in the game, and three hauled in ones of 38 yards or more.
“We know they’re going to throw the ball down the field,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. “It’s very similar to when we played them the last time (in Super Bowl XLIX). They’re able to run, but we did a good job up front against the run, but we knew they have very good deep downfield players, so I think they just did a better job of completing some of those balls against us today. We were aware, but those man-to-man situations are tough. (Quarterback) Russell Wilson throws some good balls down there, so it’s tough.”
It was speculated New England might use a linebacker rotation to replace Collins, but that was not the case.
Shea McClellin saw time in obvious passing situations, but he played just 16 snaps, and outside of his blocked extra point, he made little positive impact. Like Roberts, McClellin was to blame for a big gain by Prosise, allowing the rookie back to scamper for 18 yards on third-and-6 early in the game after losing his footing coverage.
Neither of the other two candidates to see time in Collins’ absence, Barkevious Mingo and Kyle Van Noy, played a single defensive snap. Mingo played exclusively on special teams, and Van Noy was inactive for a second consecutive game and has yet to suit up for the Patriots since the team traded for him last month.
Would the Patriots’ defense have been better Sunday night had Collins still been a part of it? Maybe. Collins’ playing time and performance both had dipped in the weeks leading up to the trade, and given how well Wilson and the rest of Seattle’s offense played, it might not have made much of a difference.
But one thing’s for sure: It couldn’t have been any worse.
“(Collins) is a really good player,” McCourty said, “but it doesn’t matter if we missed him or not. We just have to go out there and play better and try to get a win next week.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images