Patriots’ Dont’a Hightower: Defensive Struggles Due to “Trying to Overcompensate”


For Patriots fans watching Sunday’s showdown with the perenially underachieving Miami Dolphins, watching Knowshon Moreno manhandle New England’s run defense (a year after doing the exact same thing in a Denver Broncos jersey) was pure agony.  If you had Knowshon Moreno on your fantasy team, then Sunday was pure ecstacy.

And if you were a Patriots fan with Knowshon Moreno on your fantasy team, then, well, that’s just an existential crisis you’ll have to sort out yourself.

The run defense New England experimented with against the Dolphins seemed about as solid as Swiss cheese, especially against a Miami offensive line that’s more famous as of late for saying mean things to each other than actually opening holes for running backs.  After practice on Wednesday, linebacker Dont’a Hightower offered his insight on how everything went to pieces during the game.  ESPN’s Mike Reiss caught the interaction:

“It was little, small things that we see now when we watch film; it’s not as bad as we thought it was but it was bad,” Hightower stated. “Technique and [playing] fundamentally sound, we weren’t doing that as well as we should have.”

This statement, while it sounds homogenous enough that it could come after any loss, makes a lot more sense when Hightower offered up some additional context.

“Trying to overcompensate for maybe me messing up a play and then me not saying ‘That’s my fault’ and other guys are trying to do my job. Then things overcompensate, and that makes the cutback lanes for Moreno and Adrian Peterson and their style of running; that benefits them. It was definitely a learning curve we had last week and something that we’re working on getting corrected.”

In other words, when a team trusts someone to do their job, whether it’s a linebacker, defensive end, or anyone else, if they’re partially focused on making sure someone else isn’t getting blown out of the water or making mistakes, that’s what creates gaps and the aforementioned cutback lanes that smart, veteran running backs feast on.  When you see premier backs like Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch explode through a defensive front, and drop your nachos wondering “How did they DO that??”, it’s exploiting hesitation and blown gaps that allows them to gain so many yards after contact, or avoid contact altogether.

Unlike a lot of Patriots fans, Hightower isn’t worried about the defense moving forward.

“Definitely not hitting the panic button. First-game jitters, whatever you want to call it, it’s just a learning curve,” he said. “We have a lot of ball to play and as long as it doesn’t become a continuous thing …”

“That’s something we really [strove] to work on today, and we’re going to keep going each and every day. For us to want to be a great defense, which is something all of us agree that we want to do, you definitely can’t allow the offense to run the ball the way they did.”

“We’re definitely going to pride ourselves on that running game and do our best to take care of that. This week will be the perfect week to try to go out and do that.”

With the Minnesota Vikings up next Sunday, Hightower and the rest of the Patriots front seven will have plenty of opportunities to make sure “…it doesn’t become a continuous thing.”