Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower can strengthen DPOY cases in Week 10


Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The story of the 2015 New England Patriots is still unfolding, but a few concrete things have attributed to the 8-0 start. One of them is the unreal play of Tom Brady, of course. Another major factor has been the star power on defense. The Patriots have a trio of Defensive Player of the Year candidates in Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins.

With Collins ruled out for the second consecutive week due to illness, the attention turns to Jones and Hightower.

Related: 3 offensive linemen, Collins ruled out for Week 10  

Let’s start with Jones. It’s not a small feat to be the NFL’s sacks leader through the first half of the regular season, and Jones has done just that. His 9.5 sacks in the first eight games of 2015 leads all players, including Defensive Player of the Year shoo-in candidate J.J. Watt.

Although the Giants have been doing a pretty decent job of protecting Eli Manning—they’ve allowed just 12 sacks in nine games, tied for the fourth-fewest in the NFL—Jones should notch another one in Week 10. It’s been more than a month since the last time Jones didn’t record at least one sack in a game (Week 5 against the Dallas Cowboys).

As long as Jones continues to set the pace for sacks, he will be considered a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Moving on to Hightower, the Patriots are fortunate to have the Luke Kuechly of the AFC on their roster. No, seriously: Hightower made the Pro Football Focus 2014 All-Pro Team as the interior linebacker next to Kuechly. He is a very, very good player.

You don’t have to look any further than the running game to see how well Hightower is playing. Despite losing Vince Wilfork over the offseason, the Patriots have fielded one of the more underrated run defenses in the league, allowing a middle-of-the-pack 4.1 yards per carry and just 89.3 yards per game, the third-lowest average in the NFL.

Must-read: 8 reasons why you should be excited for Pats-Giants

While that last fact can be attributed to in part to teams usually playing from behind and thus throwing, it’s nonetheless impressive and telling of the Pats’ defensive pedigree. The driving force behind that strong run defense is the gap-filling Hightower. But don’t just take my word for it; here’s what’s Doug Kyed echoes:

"There’s a strong case to be made for linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive end Chandler Jones and safety Devin McCourty, but Hightower’s presence changes the Patriots’ defense like no other player, and he’s the unit’s most consistent defender on a play-to-play basis.Hightower is dominant as a run defender and as a pass rusher. He has 20 total pressures — third behind Jones and Rob Ninkovich despite far fewer opportunities — and 3.5 sacks through seven games, and he has allowed just 10 catches on 17 targets for 83 yards with one pass breakup.The Patriots allowed 120 yards on 22 carries to the Colts when Hightower was out of the defense. They’ve allowed just 3.9 yards per carry and 84.9 rushing yards per game when Hightower plays."

As for Collins, the longer this illness impairs him, his Defensive Player of the Year chances decrease. That being said, he’s also playing out of his mind these days and could re-enter the Defensive Player of the Year conversation with big performances each week down the stretch.

Next: Giants game about overcoming injuries more than history

As Patriots fans, we are fortunate to have a three-headed monster of Defensive Player of the Year Candidates.