Dont’a Hightower Leads New England Patriots Defense With 2019 Resurgence

Dont'a Hightower
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - AUGUST 29: Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots looks on during the preseason game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on August 29, 2019 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The now 5-0 New England Patriots cruised to a 33-7 victory over the abysmal 0-5 Washington Redskins. The Patriots defense continued to prove why they are the league’s number one ranked defense as they tallied five sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Through five games, New England’s defensive unit has drawn comparisons to other past defensive units that were historically great. Following a dominant game on Sunday, the middle linebacker resurgence which includes Dont’a Hightower can not be overlooked as a key reason for the Patriots 2019 defensive success.

Dont’a Hightower Stats 2018 vs. 2019  

The Patriots defense is allowing an average of 6.8 points per game after Sunday’s near shutout performance. Specifically, the play of Hightower has been phenomenal this season and he turned in a dominating game last Sunday. The 29-year-old linebacker lead the team in total tackles with eight while racking up four tackles for a loss along with one and a half sacks. In addition, the stud linebacker nearly added an interception to his stat sheet.

Hightower’s play this season has been night and day compared to that of last year’s, which has completely changed the dynamic of New England’s defense. Hightower’s 2018 down season came after 2017 in which he played in just five games due to injury. However, Hightower’s 2018 campaign was certainly one to forget as he looked absolutely invisible for most of the season.

For context, Hightower played 15 games throughout the 2018 regular season and tallied one sack, 24 solo tackles, and just three tackles for a loss. Through the linebacker’s 2019 season, Hightower has played in four games while totaling two sacks, 14 solo tackles, and four tackles for a loss.

Last season, Hightower played slow, non-impactful, and frankly looked as if his time in the league may have been coming to an end. However, so far in 2019, Hightower has completely changed that narrative. The linebacker has been flying all over the field while making a notable impact within the run, pass, and pass-rushing defense.  

Dont’a Hightower‘s Impact on Team Defense

Historically, a great defense features a star middle linebacker who can anchor the unit through his brains along with his ability to shut down the run and middle pass. Last season, Hightower’s slowness prevented him from strongly impacting run defense as well as made him a liability in man to man and zone coverage. Hightower’s down year was a big reason as to why the Patriots 2018 defense ranked 22nd against the pass and 11th against the run [https://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2018/opp.htm]. The 2019 resurgence of Hightower has allowed New England a true shutdown middle linebacker, which has played a huge part in the Patriots ranking second against the pass and fifth against the run [https://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2019/opp.htm].  

New England’s team defense is not solely due to the impact of one singular player. Although great middle linebackers are a necessity for great defenses as they are, in a lot of ways, the equivalent to having a great quarterback on offense. Certainly, it is no coincidence that Hightower’s worst statistical season came in unison with a Patriots defense that failed to rank inside the top ten for stopping the run or pass.

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