Patriots’ Defensive Shake-Up Vs. 49ers Allows Kyle Van Noy To Enter Fray

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The New England Patriots’ newest defender made his long-awaited debut Sunday as part of an up-and-down effort by New England’s much-maligned defense.

The Patriots activeated linebacker Kyle Van Noy for the first time since acquiring him in a trade with the Detroit Lions last month, and he made his presence felt early.

Coming off the bench following two consecutive healthy scratches, Van Noy tallied three tackles and one sack in New England’s 30-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers. He played a total of 29 defensive snaps — mostly in obvious passing situations — and frequently applied pressure on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick — a departure from the way he was utilized in Detroit.

“Yeah, it looked like he helped us a little bit,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters after the game. “We’ll see how it goes on the film, but he has some versatility for us — can rush, cover.”

The Patriots’ defense was under the microscope following its poor showing in last Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and its latest effort was far from perfect, especially in the first half. New England played much better defensively after halftime, however, forcing five consecutive San Francisco punts — including three three-and-outs — before allowing a garbage-time touchdown on the Niners’ final possession.

Here’s a look at some of the other tweaks the Patriots made on the defensive side of the ball Sunday:

— The Patriots appeared to bring extra rushers much more often than they had in recent weeks, and that pressure paid off. They sacked Kaepernick five times, notched five tackles for loss and forced three fumbles, though San Francisco recovered all three.

New England had managed just 16 total sacks through nine games before Sunday.

— Linebacker Shea McClellin received a boost in playing time, starting in place of rookie Elandon Roberts and playing 57 percent of defensive snaps, way up from his season average of 25.3 percent.

Replacing Roberts — who replaced Jamie Collins a few weeks earlier — in the starting lineup involved a position shift for McClellin, who typically had lined up on the line on scrimmage rather than off it.

“I thought (Van Noy) and Shea both — it was kind of Shea’s first playing time off the line of scrimmage — both those guys gave us a lot of snaps,” Belichick told reporters. “I think there were some things that were OK. I’m sure there are some things that we can improve on. We’ll see how that looks, but it was good to have all of those guys in there.”

— After a lackluster performance against Seattle, Roberts hardly saw the field Sunday, playing just 11 defensive snaps. He was on the wrong end of a few Niners offensive highlights, too, first failing to touch Kaepernick on a 17-yard scramble and then, on the very next play, losing track of tight end Garrett Celek in coverage, resulting in a 19-yard gain.

— Linebacker and defensive co-captain Dont’a Hightower remained on the sideline during the 49ers’ third and fourth offensive series, but Belichick swiftly shot down any notion he’d been removed for performance reasons.

“We played a lot of players on defense,” the coach told reporters. “Dont’a is one of our best players.”

Hightower was credited with a sack, a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and six tackles.

— With Jabaal Sheard sitting out as a healthy scratch, the Patriots utilized a three-man rotation at defensive end, with Trey Flowers (48 snaps), Chris Long (44) and Rob Ninkovich (41) splitting time relatively evenly.

— The Patriots’ carousel at cornerback kept spinning. One week after being inactive, Eric Rowe played nearly every snap (62 of a possible 63) as the No. 2 corner behind Malcolm Butler. Logan Ryan played arguably his best game of the season from the third corner spot, recording three tackles and two pass breakups in 41 snaps. Rookie Cyrus Jones again was used almost exclusively on special teams, playing just one defensive snap.

Thumbnail photo via Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports Images

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