Patriots’ continued inability to replace Dont’a Hightower is bad

It’s Week 10 of the 2020 NFL season and the Patriots still have no answer at linebacker.

We can’t say enough about the lack of depth the New England Patriots are dealing with in 2020. Injuries have thinned out the roster, as did the countless player opt-outs, but by now you’d think at least some of those issues would be fixed. Nope!

Jakobi Meyers has at least emerged at wide receiver, but that’s come at the expense of everybody else being really bad. Tight end? That’s just Ryan Izzo, because the Patriots wasted two third-round picks on largely unproven talent. At this point, only the offensive line has shown formidable versatility and depth.

Another major problem has been in the linebacking corps. Everyone knew this unit would take a giant step back when Dont’a Hightower decided to sit out the season, but how can it be this bad heading into the ninth game of the year? The Patriots quite literally have zero solutions. Hell, Devin McCourty was seen relaying plays to the LBs last week against the Jets!

New England’s leading tackler is Adrian Phillips, who doubles as a linebacker/safety hybrid. Next up is Ja’Whaun Bentley, who was the team’s fifth-round selection back in 2018 out of Purdue. He’s registered 45 tackles in seven games, but his ineffectiveness in terms of making stops up the middle has been glaring, and that explains his 32.5 grade from PFF.

While those markings aren’t the be-all end-all, the Patriots getting gashed for 131 yards on the ground with Bentley manning the middle of the linebacking corps says a lot. Additionally, the amount of times we’ve seen the middle of the field wide open for receivers, running backs and tight ends has been unsettling.

When three of your top four tacklers are defensive backs, you know you have a big problem.

Hightower is very much the glue that holds this defense together, and his versatility makes him extremely valuable. His loss cannot be put into words, but the fact that Bentley is merely a supporting cast member in his third NFL season doesn’t bode well for the position in the next few years. What would the Pats have done if Hightower played and got injured this year?

New England clearly staked way too much faith in its starters, and when we’re seeing holes as big as this at paramount positions, the problem is evident, especially since it’s taking this long to develop rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings.

At the very least, it’ll be back to the drawing board for the Pats when addressing their linebacking corps in the offseason, because Hightower won’t be around forever.