Pats going back-to-back with Ryan defenses


Pats going back-to-back with Ryan defenses

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.comFOXBORO -- Before the season began, Rex Ryan made a blanket request to all future Patriots' opponents. Beat them. After Rex's team got handled Sunday, his request may become closer to a plea. And he can direct it this week at his twin brother Rob, the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Rob, as you no doubt know, has background with the Patriots, serving four seasons as linebackers coach (2000-03) in New England. He became the Raiders' defensive coordinator in 2004. That wasa dead-end job since Al Davis set the defense and created the game plans, but he stayed there until 2008 before joining Eric Mangini in Cleveland as the DC. It was there that Rob was able to showcase his schemes and one of the landmark games he coordinated came last November when he directed the Browns defense to a 34-14 win over the Patriots. The Patriots had three turnovers and 283 total yards. So the Patriots go back-to-back with Ryan-inspired defenses. And, in truth, that has to be an advantage for the Patriots because the teaching material is fresh for the offensive students. "There's definitely some carryover," Bill Belichick agreed Monday afternoon. "I wouldn't say they're exactly the same, but there is carryover. Both are based out of the 3-4 but use a lot of different looks, both defenses use a lot of multiple defensive backs -- four, five, six, seven."The Patriots abused the multi-DB look against the Jets Sunday, gashing them with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Rob will have seen that but Rex may pass on other nuances he picked up breaking down the game film Monday. "I'm sure they talk a lot," Belichick smiled. "I'm sure they exchange a lot of ideas and that kind of thing."One other detail that could have some interesting impact on Sunday is the fact Dallas is coming off its bye week and had extra time to tweak its own tendencies and break down the Patriots. Will it all make a difference? That's likely Ryan's hope.Obviously they have more time and extra days to prepare for you but from Sunday to Sunday that's ample time to get ready.

Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'


Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower is coming off of one of the best games of his career, and he did it while running the Patriots defensive huddle without the help of his on-the-field partner at the linebacker level.

"It’s a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there," Hightower said on Wednesday. "A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie is just like, ‘No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I’ll play off of you.’

"It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me, I’m 100 percent having him out there."

Hightower has plenty of experience playing without Collins, however, and Collins is accustomed to having to go without Hightower. Both had issues staying on the field in 2015, and although it's early, that trend has continued this season.

Hightower missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and Collins missed Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning the duo has been available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia only three times this year. 

Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.

Both are vital to the long-term success of the Patriots defense in 2016, but it's been hit-or-miss as to when they'll be out there to play off of one another as Hightower described.

"Our linebackers, Jamie, Dont'a, they're two of the best in the league," said safety Duron Harmon following Hightower's dominating performance against the Bengals in Week 6. "Any time we can have those guys out there, they just continue to create havoc.

"They make plays, they make it easier for us, especially me. The quarterback can't look off as long when Dont'a's all in his face -- him and Jamie. Having him on the field is a plus. And when you get both of them on the field it's a double-plus."

And therein lies the issue: Having both Hightower and Collins out there together has felt like a luxury rather than the norm. 

At some point, the Patriots will have to make decisions as to what they'll do at the linebacker level for the foreseeable future. Both Hightower and Collins are slated to hit free-agency, and their durability will certainly factor into the equation when the Patriots make them offers to stick in New England.

Until then, though, both will work to be available as often as possible -- both for their team's sake and their own as they eye new deals -- where they can stress opposing offenses at a degree to which most linebacker combinations around the league can only aspire. 

"With us out there we’re able to do a lot of different things, [we have] a lot of versatility," Hightower said. "So hopefully we can both stay out there."

Hightower was removed from the Patriots injury report last week, meaning he's able to take on a full workload in practice. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be limited in practice, and his availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers is not yet known. In place of Collins, sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts earned the bulk of the playing time against the Bengals last week. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo saw a season-high eight defensive snaps in the win. 

Thursday's Patriots-Steelers practice report: Garoppolo off the list


Thursday's Patriots-Steelers practice report: Garoppolo off the list

FOXBORO -- The Patriots injury report shrunk again on Thursday. 

One day after Rob Gronkowski was removed from the injury report, the Patriots were able to take backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo off. 

Garoppolo injured his shoulder in a Week 2 win over the Dolphins and then missed the following two games, giving way to rookie third-rounder Jacoby Brissett. He has been limited in practice ever since being driven into the ground by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Here is Thursday's full practice participation/injury report for the Patriots and Steelers:


TE Martellus Bennett (ankle)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Jamie Collins (hip)
WR Julian Edelman (foot)
DL Woodrow Hamilton (shoulder)
LB Shea McClellin (concussion)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (hamstring)
LB Elandon Roberts (ankle)
DL Vincent Valentine (back)


T Marcus Gilbert (ankle)
DE Cameron Heyward (hamstring)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (left knee)
S Shamarko Thomas (groin)
C Cody Wallace (knee)
WR Markus Wheaton (shoulder)
RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

S Robert Golden (foot)
S Michael Mitchell (knee)
LB Ryan Shazier (knee)