Fine, I’ll say it: Dont’a Hightower has been the New England Patriots’ best defender this season.
No one on the Patriots’ defense makes a bigger impact on a play-to-play basis than Hightower — even fellow linebacker Jamie Collins or safety Devin McCourty. Hightower might be the best run-stuffing and pass-rushing linebacker in the NFL, and there’s no doubt he’s the best in the league with that combination of skills.
Hightower put together another big game Thursday night in the Patriots’ 36-7 win over the Miami Dolphins. Check out this week’s advanced passing stats:
Chandler Jones: five pressures, two sacks, two QB hits, hurry
Dont’a Hightower: five pressures, sack, four QB hits
Rob Ninkovich: four pressures, sack, QB hit, two hurries
Dominique Easley: three pressures, QB hit, two hurries
Geneo Grissom: two pressures, QB hit, hurry
Devin McCourty: one pressures, sack
Jamie Collins: one pressure, QB hit
Patrick Chung: one pressure, QB hit
Sealver Siliga: one pressure, hurry
Malcom Brown: one pressure, hurry
Jerod Mayo: one pressure, hurry
Akiem Hicks: one pressure hurry
— Hightower had another absolutely monster game as a pass rusher, hitting the quarterback five times. He’s the Patriots’ most consistent pass rusher by far.
— Jones leads the NFL in sacks with 8.5. His first sack was caused by pressure from Grissom, but the second one was all Jones, as he beat a double team.
— Easley continues to cause disruption in the passing game, which is exactly why he was drafted in the first round last year.
— Some unlikely candidates like McCourty, Chung and Mayo brought some heat in the game. Mayo has been passed on the depth chart by Jonathan Freeny, but he received snaps in mop-up duty.
Malcolm Butler: 5-7, 57 yards
Justin Coleman: 3-6, 54 yards, PBU
Patrick Chung: 3-4, 42 yards, PBU
Logan Ryan: 4-9, 31 yards, INT
Dont’a Hightower: 3-3, 12 yards, PBU
Rashaan Melvin: 1-1, 10 yards
Rob Ninkovich: 1-1, 8 yards
Devin McCourty: 2-4, 8 yards, PBU
Jamie Collins: 1-2, 3 yards
Duron Harmon: INT, three PBUs
— McCourty continues to impress against tight ends. He helped hold Jordan Cameron to just two catches on five targets for 34 yards. The Patriots have been stingy against tight ends all season.
— Collins helped limit running back Lamar Miller to just five catches for 19 yards on the night.
— Harmon still hasn’t been individually targeted this season back deep at free safety, but he has three interceptions and four pass breakups. It’s been a breakout season for the third-year safety.
— Ryan, Harmon’s college teammate, has been the Patriots’ most consistent cornerback this season. Butler was solid in matchups against Jarvis Landry and Rishard Matthews.
Cameron Fleming: sack, QB hit, four hurries
Sebastian Vollmer: sack, two QB hits, two hurries
Tre’ Jackson: three hurries
David Andrews: QB hit, hurry
Ryan Wendell: QB hit, hurry
Josh Kline: two hurries
— Fleming had a difficult matchup against Dolphins pass rusher Cameron Wake. Right tackle will improve when Marcus Cannon returns to the field.
— Wendell saw his first action at guard when Jackson went down with a knee injury and subsequently gave up two pressures.
— Kline continues to impress at left guard.
Here are Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s 12 incompletions charted:
1. Pass breakup by Brent Grimes on target to Rob Gronkowski
2. Pass breakup by Reshad Jones on target to Gronkowski
3. Low throw to Brandon LaFell
4. Pass breakup by Jamar Taylor on target to Brandon LaFell. Should have been pass interference
5. Brady hit while throwing to Gronkowski, with QB hit allowed by David Andrews
6. High throw to Julian Edelman
7. Thrown behind and low to LaFell
8. High throw to Edelman
9. Thrown behind LaFell
10. High throw to Scott Chandler
11. Drop by Dion Lewis
12. QB hit allowed by Fleming
The Patriots only suffered one drop Thursday night after having seven Sunday. Brady was inaccurate on six passes, three incompletions were caused by the defense, and two came because of pressure allowed by the offensive line.
Brady was 3 of 6 on deep passes for 76 yards. Brady’s deep accuracy appears to have improved this season.
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Oct 29, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler (21) and cornerback Duron Harmon (30) defend against Miami Dolphins wide receiver Jarvis Landry (14) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins 36-7. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports