Patriots: Versatile linebackers standout
With marquee teammates like Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, and Rob Gronkowski getting most of the attention, it’s easy for the New England Patriots supporting cast to get lost in the shuffle. But linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are just as responsible for bringing the Patriots this far, and with the Seattle Seahawks dual rushing attack the final test of the season, they are sure to be just as responsible for how the Patriots finish.
Hightower’s hugely impressive +27.1 overall grade was well earned; grading at +7.0 or above in all three major grade categories for the position – run defense, pass coverage, and rushing the passer. Hightower led all inside linebackers with 30 total pressures (including six sacks) giving him an impressive 16.1 Pass Rushing Productivity (PRP) score. Not to be outdone, Collins (+22.1) rushed the passer less often, but still registered 26 pressures for a whopping 25.3 PRP rating – the best mark by any starting defensive front seven player this season. They also recorded nearly identical Run Stop Percentages, with 8.8 and 8.7 scores. This versatility was a key element of the Patriots defense; their ability to play all three phases of the game keeps the offense guessing until the ball is snapped.