Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 11/28/12
The Patriots will be without two of their top pass rushing threats this weekend in Miami, but as long as they keep the pressure coming from their linebackers, it may not matter. Since Chandler Jones went down midway through the first quarter during the Patriots’ Week 11 matchup with the Colts with an ankle injury, the team has been rushing their linebackers more than twice as often as before the rookie’s ankle injury. Now, without Jones this weekend and without interior-rush threat Jermaine Cunningham, who was suspended four games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, New England may employ those big, thumping linebackers even more. In total, rookie Dont’a Hightower has rushed the passer in 10.1 percent of his 2012 snaps, in the last two games that has increased to 16.6 percent. Brandon Spikes‘ season total stands at 8.4 percent, while he’s been blitzing at a rate of 16.8 percent in Weeks 11 and 12. Jerod Mayo hasn’t seen quite the same uptick in blitzes, but he has rushed the passer 5.3 percent of the time the last two weeks, versus 4.95 percent overall. The Patriots should have been employing this strategy all along. None of the linebackers are tremendous in coverage, but they’re all above average at getting after the passer. Hightower and Spikes have especially proven dangerous in that area. In the last two weeks, Hightower has one sack and one quarterback hit, while Spikes has one QB hit and four pressures. Since most of Cunningham’s production came as an interior rusher before Jones’ injury, that area may suffer the worst for the Patriots. They could use Justin Francis, Ron Brace or Brandon Deaderick in that role, but none of those players provide the same speed/strength combination that Cunningham has. What the Patriots can do is blitz hard up the middle with Spikes, Hightower and — at times — Mayo. Hightower could play a number of roles on defense this weekend for the Pats. He had experience at Alabama playing at defensive end, rushing outside and rushing inside. With his size — 6-foot-4, 270 pounds — we could actually see Hightower play some undersized defensive tackle in a Cunningham-esque role. It would be wise to send a number of different formations at rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. While he’s adjusted to the NFL well, he’s still a rookie, and he’ll still get floundered by defensive schemes he hasn’t seen. The improved Patriots secondary — and more reliance on man coverages — allows the team to use their linebackers less in coverage as well. With Devin McCourty covering more ground at free safety, and newcomer Aqib Talib shoring up his side of the field, the Patriots simply don’t need their linebackers taking up space — really, that’s all they do — in the middle of the field as much any more. All of this is not to say the team won’t miss Jones and Cunningham. They will. But they can lesser the impact of missing both players if they can still get pressure from the linebackers, Trevor Scott and whoever they choose as a sub-package defensive tackle. Worry not Patriots fans, the team still clinch the division this weekend even without Jones and Cunningham, though it may take Bill Belichick getting more creative with his defense, which is typically a good thing. Photo via Facebook/NewEnglandPatriots
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Bright future for Minnesota Timberwolves

Eli and Archie Manning say Peyton won’t likely leave Denver if he plays in 2016

NCAA mulls changes to graduate transfer and targeting rules

Cavs active in NBA trade market, covet Jared Dudley

Roger Goodell expectedly dodges Patriots-related questions at Super Bowl

Baltimore Orioles acquire starting pitcher Odrisamer Despaigne


USC athletic director Pat Haden to retire in June

Report: Browns owner ‘frustrated, emotional’ about Johnny Manziel

Raiders and Texans to play MNF game in Mexico City in 2016

Goodell wants to keep Raiders, Chargers in home markets

Deadly shooting breaks out at Dublin boxing weigh-in

Mike Shula vs. Wade Phillips: The best story of Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name every NFL regular season MVP

WATCH: Avery Bradley nails buzzer beater to beat Cavs

WATCH: Jimmy Butler taken to locker room in wheel chair

Klay Thompson's first five years in historical context

WATCH: Cubs' Kris Bryant went swimming with sharks

Sports Authority taking steps to file for bankruptcy

Major League Baseball threatens to disassociate from DraftKings

NFL considering moving Pro Bowl to Australia

Joe Montana warns NFL players about potential long-term damage after retirement

Report: Two people fired for leaking Jason Pierre-Paul information

‘Crying Jordan’ photographer had no idea it existed until this week

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in the NHL playoff hunt

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Five outrageous predictions for Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name the winning starting quarterback from every Super Bowl

The top six matchups that could decide Super Bowl 50

Seven unheralded players set to make major impacts in SB 50

10 underrated performances in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

X-factors in Super Bowl 50

NHL nightmare: No Canadian teams in playoff hunt

QUIZ: Name the Super Bowl halftime performers since 1991

Manziel's father fears for QB's life

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Follow Yardbarker