It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Patriots locker room wasn’t filled with laughter and a ton of energy Thursday afternoon. Perhaps that’s in part because there were meetings going on during the media availability period. But though teammates no doubt knew Dont’a Hightower’s fate before we did, losing a player of his caliber and with his influence hurts. No one knows that better than Kyle Van Noy. The linebacker has leaned heavily on Hightower during his year in Foxboro.
“Dont’a is a special player,” said Van Noy. “He does a lot for the team. It’s going to take a group effort.”
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The Pats defense has played nearly an equal number of plays with and without Hightower this season. 228 with, according to NFL Research, 226 without. That unit - which struggled until last weekend against Atlanta - has allowed 307 more yards with the former Alabama star on the field. That’s no coincidence. Now Van Noy and company will have an even greater burden placed on their shoulders.
“As a unit, everyone has to step up and hold each other accountable and get on the same page,” said Van Noy. “There’s really no conversation needed. Everybody knows what they need to do.”
Van Noy has had more responsibility from jump this year, barely coming off the field. On defense, only Devin McCourty and Malcolm Butler have played more snaps, and while the analytics crew is not all that complimentary of Van Noy’s play, either the Pats have no one better or the number crunchers don’t know what they’re looking at.
“I guess that question reverts back to you,” said Van Noy when asked if he was comfortable with all that he’s being asked to do. “What do you think? I can only say so much.”
Van Noy is more fond of letting his play do the talking and that will be scrutinized in the coming weeks and months. Is he up for it? We’re about to find out.