Patriots: How worrisome is Dont’a Hightower’s slow start?

The New England Patriots retooled their defense this offseason, and it’s paid immediate dividends in the early stages of 2021.

Through four weeks, the Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in points allowed (17.5) and fifth in total yards allowed per game (307). Once, or if, the offense gets clicking, this roster could push for a playoff berth in the loaded AFC.

The defense performing well isn’t surprising.

If Bill Belichick has serviceable talent at his disposal (unlike last season) he’ll get the most from his players.

However, one of his most consistent contributors has had a minimal impact thus far.

That player? None other than Dont’a Hightower. We have faith the stalwart LB will figure it out, but his slow start is definitely a cause for concern.

What’s going on with Patriots LB Dont’a Hightower?

The Patriots’ linebacking corps has been the clear weakness of their defense thus far. That, among other reasons, is why they beat everyone to the punch and signed Jamie Collins. Matt Judon has largely been a one-man army out there, tallying 16 tackles (six for loss), 4.5 sacks, and eight quarterback hits.

Hightower, on the other hand, has just 14 tackles (seven solo) and one QB hit to his name over 198 snaps thus far. While disappointing in their own right, those numbers don’t fully encapsulate how invisible the three-time champ has been this season.

Hightower’s slow start was expected after he sat out last campaign to prioritize the health and safety of his family amid the COVID-19 pandemic after he and his fiancee welcomed a newborn son into the world.

However, we’re four weeks into the season and Hightower’s play hasn’t improved. He mustered just three combined tackles in the Patriots’ valiant performance in primetime against the Buccaneers last week. He was even benched for two second half series vs the Saints in favor of practice squad LB Jahlani Tavai.

We’re not saying Hightower’s “washed-up.” There’s plenty of season left for the nine-year pro to turn it around and the addition of Collins could be just what the doctor ordered in that regard.

However, it might be to admit that Hightower isn’t the saving grace fans and the media pegged him to be given how the Patriots’ defense looked without him calling out signals and swarming to the football in 2020. So far, that’s been Judon, and there’s no evidence to suggest that’ll change anytime soon.

New England’s D has performed well in spite of Hightower’s lackluster showing, so we’re not hitting the panic button. Having said that, the group’s ceiling will be limited if the 31-year-old continues on this trajectory.