The Patriots brought back Jamie Collins this week, the linebacker’s fourth stint with the team. He won Super Bowls in 2014 and 2018 with the Patriots and brought a high degree of athleticism to the group. His signing now, however, is not about a return to the glory days of an elite Patriots linebacking corps that featured Collins, Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy. It is about a group that has underwhelmed through four games overall despite some flashes of strong play.
Prior to the Collins signing the main contributors at linebacker for the Patriots have been Ja’Whaun Bentley, Jahlani Tavai, Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson. Matt Judon, the team’s best player, is listed as a linebacker on the depth chart but realistically he is an edge player and doesn’t factor in as much in pass coverage. Bentley has been solid and played outside as well as inside linebacker.
The problem has been with the combination of McMillan, Wilson and Tavai at interior linebacker. Wilson had a nice run stuff in the fourth quarter against Miami and made an excellent athletic play to tip a pass and help create an interception against the Steelers, but beyond that has not flashed much. He has also looked overmatched in the run game overall. Tavai has been better than expected, but has not been an impact player as of yet. I’m still a believer in McMillan, but he started Week 1 and has tailed off since then. He has been limited in practice due to a thumb injury and doesn’t look as physical or explosive since his 2021 ACL injury. He may just need more time to fully come around, but right now he hasn’t been the answer.
The Patriots had a few costly coverage breakdowns against Dolphins RBs. Chase Edmonds beat them for three third-down conversions, including two in the 4Q (one vs. Raekwon McMillan, one vs. Mack Wilson). pic.twitter.com/BIEPqrVRQV
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) September 13, 2022
The Patriots’ goal was to get more athletic at linebacker in 2022. While these players, especially Wilson, are athletic, they simply have not played well enough. The Patriots’ defense ranks 27th in the league on 3rd Down and has been run over the past two games by the Ravens and Packers. Poor linebacker play is a huge part of these struggles.
The New England pass rush and secondary play has been good, but the linebacker group has been letting them down. These younger linebackers will have plenty of opportunities to bounce back and if the Patriots are going to be a serious playoff contender they will need them to.
Jamie Collins may not be the answer at linebacker, but his signing is a definitive answer on how his fellow linebackers have played thus far.