LaAdrian Waddle

Cannon concussion thrusts Waddle into spotlight for second week in a row

Cannon concussion thrusts Waddle into spotlight for second week in a row

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Jerry Hughes probably hasn't had his name mentioned enough this week by those of us who cover the Patriots. 

He's flown under the radar in the buildup to Monday night simply because his team is one of the worst in football. But he's been a thorn in the Patriots' side for years, and he's quietly performed as one of the best edge defenders in football this season. 

In 12 career games against the Patriots, Hughes has 5.0 sacks -- more than he has against any other team -- and 11 quarterback hits. This season he's fifth in the NFL in total quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus, with 36. PFF has graded at the top of their list of edge defenders for 2018.

What's it all mean for the Patriots? LaAdrian Waddle will be back in the spotlight for the second consecutive game. 

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Starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, who was limited in practice all week, has been ruled out as he continues to deal with the NFL's concussion protocol. Waddle, then, will take over starting duties yet again. 

This is nothing new for the backup on Brady's front side. Waddle played in 12 games last season, starting four and performing admirably in one stretch against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram of the Chargers, Von Miller of the Broncos and Khalil Mack of the Raiders. 

What Waddle did against Mack last year, not allowing a sack in 15 one-on-one pass-blocking snaps, was part of the reason he was a go-to option for members of the Patriots media leading up to the Week 7 matchup between the Bears and Patriots. 

For days, we speculated as to whether or not Mack would play and what kind of impact he'd have on the outcome as he dealt with an ankle injury. Would Waddle be able to hold up as he did the year prior? 

The answer: Easily. Mack was clearly not himself, and he's still hurt. He was ruled inactive for the first time in his career over the weekend against the Jets. 

Waddle will have his hands full with Hughes, though. Like Mack, Hughes sees the vast majority of his pass-rush snaps (95.3 percent) on the offensive right. 

The buildup for that game within the game -- Patriots right tackle vs. premier pass-rusher -- should've had the same kind of buzz it did a week ago. It didn't because Hughes doesn't have nearly the same kind of name-recognition as Mack. 

But Hughes is without a doubt a more dangerous threat to the Patriots offense Monday night than an injured Mack was a week ago.

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Waddle set to see Mack again after meeting the challenge a year ago

Waddle set to see Mack again after meeting the challenge a year ago

CHICAGO -- LaAdrian Waddle had a three-game stretch last season that any offensive tackle would be proud of. In 104 pass-protection snaps, he allowed three hits, six hurries and no sacks. 

But the numbers alone don't reveal just how impressive that stretch was. Those performances came against some of the best pass-rushers in football: the Chargers' duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, Von Miller of the Broncos and Khalil Mack of the Raiders. 

The last in that string of matchups has drawn plenty of attention this week since Waddle, the presumed Patriots fill-in starter at right tackle for Marcus Cannon (out with a concussion), could be aligned across from Mack a great deal Sunday when the Patriots take on Chicago. 

Waddle wouldn't play up the significance of last year's Patriots-Raiders matchup when asked about it this week.

"I don’t think there’s too much I can carry over,” Waddle said. "It’s a different game, different team, different circumstances, all that. Nothing really carries over from that. But he was definitely a challenging guy to go against. He can rush the passer. He’s a physical player. He’s going to play hard to play hard through the whistle. So we’ve just got to be ready for that."

There is some carryover, though. 

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Mack is still primarily a left-edge rusher (about 80 precent of his pass-rush snaps come off the offensive right, per Pro Football Focus). Plus his skill set hasn't changed all that drastically since Waddle last saw him less than a year ago -- and if it has, it's been for the worse. Mack didn't practice this week due to an ankle injury he suffered against the Dolphins last weekend.

Then there's the confidence factor that may benefit Waddle going into Soldier Field. He went back and watched last year's Patriots-Raiders game in Mexico City this week, and what he saw -- he allowed Mack two hits and a hurry in 15 one-on-one pass-blocking snaps -- only reinforced the fact that he'd be up for the challenge again if called upon this week.

The Patriots threw primarily one-on-one looks at Mack during that meeting at altitude last year. Waddle got Mack 15 times. Left tackle Nate Solder saw Mack six times. There were a couple of true double-teams thrown Mack's way, particularly when Cameron Fleming filled in for Waddle briefly and got some help from Rob Gronkowski. There were tight end and running back chips. 

The Patriots also utilized a quick passing game that day, as they often do, to help neutralize Mack. But they still took their share of deep shots that were effective. Tom Brady ended up going 30-for-37 for 340 yards and three touchdowns.

And for the most part, on Mack's 34 pass-rush snaps, it was mano a mano at the line. 

If Waddle is asked to handle Mack one-on-one for a large portion of the afternoon Sunday, he'll be confident. He's done it once before.

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