Adam Gase on Thursday noted something that’s been obvious to New England Patriots fans this season:
The Patriots’ defense really misses Dont’a Hightower.
Hightower, New England’s star linebacker and defensive signal-caller, opted out of the season due to COVID-19 concerns, and the Patriots’ inability to adequately replace him has been a major issue through the first eight weeks.
Gase, whose New York Jets will host the Patriots this week on “Monday Night Football,” was asked during a conference call what he’s seen from New England’s defense thus far.
“I would say they’re missing some guys, obviously,” Gase replied. “Hightower not being out there from opting out, that’s a big deal. That’s a big loss. I know he’s missed games in the past because of injuries, but that changes quite a bit. I know they lost some guys in free agency, as well.”
Third-year pro Ja’Whaun Bentley took over Hightower’s usual role but has been unable to match the 2019 Pro Bowler’s level of play. Bentley, who left Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills with a groin injury and was limited in practice Thursday, currently is the NFL’s sixth-lowest-graded linebacker by Pro Football Focus.
The Patriots also lost several other key front-seven contributors in free agency, with linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy and defensive tackle Danny Shelton all signing elsewhere. They’ve lacked proven depth at both spots this season.
Gase went on to say New England’s new-look defense is “having very similar results,” but that’s not exactly accurate. The Patriots have regressed, and often drastically, in nearly every defensive metric this season:
2019 Patriots defense
Points allowed per game: 14.1 (first)
Yards allowed per game: 275.9 (first)
Yards allowed per play: 4.66 (first)
Rushing yards allowed per game: 95.5 (sixth)
Yards allowed per carry: 4.19 (14th)
Passing yards allowed per game: 180.4 (second)
Yards allowed per pass attempt: 5.38 (second)
Sack rate: 8.77 percent (sixth)
Interception rate: 4.66 percent (first)
Third-down defense: 24.1 percent (first)
Red-zone defense: 48.3 percent (fourth)
Run defense DVOA: eighth
Pass defense DVOA: first
2020 Patriots defense
Points allowed per game: 23.9 (12th)
Yards allowed per game: 357.3 (14th)
Yards allowed per play: 6.07 (25th)
Rushing yards allowed per game: 140.4 (27th)
Yards allowed per carry: 4.55 (19th)
Passing yards allowed per game: 216.9 (ninth)
Yards allowed per pass attempt: 8.16 (30th)
Sack rate: 5.38 percent (23rd)
Interception rate: 4.84 percent (first)
Third-down defense: 38.9 percent (11th)
Red-zone defense: 60.9 percent (T-13th)
Run defense DVOA: 30th
Pass defense DVOA: 19th
The 2-5 Patriots, losers of four straight, should catch a break this week against a Jets offense that ranks last in the NFL in nearly every prominent category.