Wed Oct 13 6:55pm ET
By KYLE HIGHTOWER
AP Sports Writer
Houston Texans quarterback Davis Mills (10) is sacked by New England Patriots linebacker Matt Judon during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)
New England Patriots outside linebacker Matt Judon faces reporters before an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
New England Patriots outside linebacker Dont'a Hightower tosses the ball during an NFL football practice, Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) When the Patriots have played well on defense in recent years, it usually has meant they've gotten good play at linebacker.
That has been the case again this season with linebacker Matt Judon, one of their key offseason additions, thriving in his first year in New England's system.
He's leading the team with 6 1/2 sacks and has brought a gregarious personality to the locker room that has fit right in with a group that includes veterans such as Dont'a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, who was signed last week to begin his third stint with the team.
It has helped set the tone for a unit that enters the week ranked fifth in the NFL, allowing 317 yards and 18.4 points per game. The Patriots will need all of them to be at their best this week as they prepare to host a Dallas Cowboys offense that is ranked second in the NFL, averaging 439.6 yards per game.
New England will also be looking for a bit of redemption after giving up three touchdown passes and more than 300 yards passing to Houston rookie Davis Mills last week.
''If we're gonna be a good football team, we're gonna have to prove it,'' Judon said. ''Nobody's gonna give it to us.''
The challenge against the Cowboys begins with trying to contain a quarterback in Dak Prescott who is dangerous both inside and outside the pocket, and is backed up by the dynamic running back duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard.
''The skill players, you can damn near put them up against anybody up in the league as far as talent or production overall, however you want to look at it,'' Hightower said. ''They're talented on each level or each tier of their offense.''
Hightower, Van Noy and Collins all shared the field together in 2019, when the Patriots last beat the Cowboys 13-9 at Gillette Stadium. The trio led a group of linebackers which dubbed themselves ''the boogeymen'' as they combined for 19 sacks that season. They also ranked in the top four on the team in tackles.
After barely having a chance to dive back into the Patriots' playbook last week, Collins played just three snaps against the Texans but registered a sack.
He said there was an instant familiarity walking back into the Patriots locker room.
''It's like going back home for the first time,'' Collins said. ''I couldn't stop smiling. ... Just coming back in here and just knowing I can go out with these guys again for the third time. Three times, that's big.''
After opting out in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns, on paper at least, Hightower is having one of the slowest starts to a season in his career. He has 19 tackles, but has yet to have a sack through the first five games. It's just the second time in his nine years in the NFL he has failed to have a sack by this point in the season.
If his production has slipped, Hightower hasn't noticed. And neither have his teammates.
''I've never been a numbers guy,'' Hightower said. ''I'm gonna do whatever I need to do for the team. Whether it's knock the (crap) out of lineman, if I'm supposed to have eight or 10 tackles a game or have eight sacks - that's what I plan on doing. I'm just gonna do my job. I'm a trash man. I just play football.''
That dirty work has included everything from setting picks to free up other players to making well-timed stunt calls. The willingness to fill those roles have been beneficial, Judon said.
''He does a lot of dirty jobs for us,'' Judon said of Hightower. ''But he makes it look good.''
While Judon believes this defense is taking steps toward figuring out how to be consistent, he said their identity will change week to week as they try to adapt and keep opponents guessing.
That will mean taking advantage of all their opportunities this rest of the season, beginning Sunday against Dallas.
''We've got to change our style every week,'' Judon said. ''But for us, our mentality, it stays the same. We want to play the upper end of football here and that never changes.''
NOTES: Running back Damien Harris (ribs), right guard Shaq Mason (abdomen) and cornerback Shaun Wade (concussion) all sat out Wednesday's practice.
Miami Dolphins WR DeVante Parker (shoulder, hamstring) appears to be facing an uphill battle to play in Week 7's game against the Atlanta Falcons, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Parker had been listed as questionable on the injury report after being a limited participant in all three of the team's practice sessions throughout the week. If he is declared active for the game, he could be viewed as a flex option in fantasy leagues, although owners should have alternatives available in the event that he misses this afternoon's contest.
Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff is not in danger of losing his job as the team's starting quarterback to QB David Blough, according to multiple sources.
Fantasy Spin: Goff has only thrown two touchdown passes in his last four games and has not reached the 300-yard passing mark since the season opener. With few offensive playmakers on the roster, he should be avoided in most fantasy leagues.
New York Giants wide receiver John Ross (hamstring) is likely to suit up for Sunday's outing against the Panthers. Ross has been dealing with a hamstring issue, although he managed to practice sparingly on Thursday and Friday, which is always a good sign regarding a player's anticipated availability. The former Bengal received an uptick in snaps over the last few weeks. However, with Darius Slayton (hamstring) andEvan Engram (calf) expected to play, andSterling Shepard (hamstring) labeled as a game-time call, Ross should be avoided in all fantasy formats in Week 8.
Miami Dolphins CB Xavien Howard (shoulder, groin) is expected to play in Week 7's game against the Atlanta Falcons. He was listed as questionable on the injury report after being a limited practice participant throughout the week.
Although Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (calf) is unlikely to participate in a light practice session when the team returns from their bye Monday, Oct. 25, he could resume practicing Wednesday, Oct. 27, according to multiple sources. The team is optimistic that he will be able to start Week 8's game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Fantasy Spin: Although Prescott should be started in all fantasy formats when healthy, he makes a somewhat risky option for Week 8 because the Dallas-Minnesota contest will be the Sunday Night Football matchup, which would leave many owners in a bind if he is declared inactive at the last minute. Fantasy owners should check back for frequent updates throughout the week on Prescott's status at practice.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (calf) has been progressing in the right direction after being injured during the Week 6 matchup against the New England Patriots. Prescott spent most of his bye week in the pool, and he should be ready to practice by Wednesday. Nonetheless, fantasy managers should continue to monitor his status and await his official designation ahead of the Week 8 outing in Minnesota.
New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley (ankle) is out for Week 7 versus the Panthers. However, while he has a slight chance to make it back for Monday Night Football against the Kansas City Chiefs, fantasy managers realistically shouldn't expect him back until Week 9 versus the Oakland Raiders. Nonetheless, until Barkley is ready to return, Devontae Booker will likely continue to handle duties out of the backfield and has plenty of appeal in all formats.
Washington Football Team QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (hip) is still relying on crutches to get around and is not close to returning to action, according to multiple sources. He is expected to undergo an MRI exam in the next few weeks and appears unlikely to return before the team's Week 9 bye on Nov. 7.
Fantasy Spin: Fitzpatrick's rehab process has not moved as quickly as initially hoped and there is a possibility that he won't return to the field this season. Taylor Heinicke will continue to serve as Washington's No. 1 quarterback in the interim and can be a starting option in two-quarterback fantasy leagues.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo will start Week 7's game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Fantasy Spin: Garoppolo had been sidelined recently because of a calf injury but is no longer listed on the team's injury report after logging two limited practice sessions and one full session during the week. Although he won't have to worry about sharing offensive snaps with injured QB Trey Lance (knee) this weekend, Garoppolo is only worthy of being a starting option in two-quarterback fantasy leagues.
New York Giants TE Evan Engram (calf) is expected to play in Week 7's game against the Carolina Panthers, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Engram had been listed as questionable on the injury report after missing practice Thursday, Oct. 21, and participating in a limited practice session Friday, Oct. 22. If he is declared active for the game, he should be viewed as a low-end TE1 option in deeper fantasy leagues.
New York Giants WR Sterling Shepard (hamstring) is considered a game-time decision for Week 7's game against the Carolina Panthers, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Shepard sustained a hamstring injury during practice Thursday, Oct. 21, and was officially designated as questionable after participating in the following day's practice session on a limited basis. If he is declared active, he should be viewed as a WR3 or flex option for fantasy leagues.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (calf) and wide receiver Darius Slayton (hamstring) are likely to play Sunday against the Panthers. ESPN's Adam Schefter notes that the two should be good to go unless they suffer a setback in pre-game warmups. Engram and Slayton have had limited roles so far- but could be pivotal players against Carolina with the Giants already down Saquon Barkley (ankle), Kenny Golladay (knee), and Kadarius Toney (ankle). The Panthers have a stingy pass defense, ranking seventh in pass DVOA, though Engram and Slayton could see enough volume to make an impact this week.
Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker (shoulder, hamstring), listed as questionable, is looking iffy for Sunday's game against the Falcons. Parker seemed to take a step in the right direction, as he was a limited participant at practice after not taking the field for any sessions the previous week. Fellow wideout Preston Williams (groin) is also questionable for the contest. If Parker misses another game, look for rookie Jaylen Waddle, coming off of a 10-catch, 70-yard, two-touchdown game, to command a large number of targets once again in an excellent matchup against Atlanta. Mike Gesicki should also continue to see his fair share of work in the passing game. Both are strong plays Sunday.
Washington Football Team running back Antonio Gibson (shin), dealing with a nagging injury, is expected to suit up Sunday against the Packers. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Gibson was dealing with a hairline fracture in his shin earlier in the year, an injury that seemed to pop back up during last week's contest. Bothered by the injury, the star halfback has yet to exceed the 100-yard scrimmage mark since Week 3- though he does have three touchdowns in his last three games played. Gibson remains in starting territory thanks to his talent and a favorable matchup against a Packers defense that ranks 30th in rush DVOA. He will likely continue to be more touchdown-dependent than usual.
Philadelphia Eagles LB Genard Avery was fined $5,111 by the National Football League for getting in the face of Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette late in Week 6's game and taking a critical penalty.
Los Angeles Rams RB Sony Michel (shoulder) is expected to play in Week 7's game against the Detroit Lions, according to head coach Sean McVay.
Fantasy Spin: Michel had been listed as questionable on the injury report after logging two limited practice sessions during the week. He should see a decent number of offensive snaps this afternoon and can be considered as a flex option in deeper fantasy leagues.
Jacksonville Jaguars S Rayshawn Jenkins was fined $10,300 by the National Football League for his actions in Week 6's game against the Miami Dolphins.
There is optimism that Tennessee Titans WR Julio Jones (hamstring) will play in Week 7's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, according to a source.
Fantasy Spin: Jones had been listed as questionable on the injury report after logging two limited practice sessions during the week. Despite the favorable matchup against the Kansas City defense, he should be viewed as a risky WR3 or flex option in fantasy leagues.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Julio Jones (hamstring) expressed optimism that he would be ready to play against Kansas City, with NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noting that that is the team's expectation. Jones suffered a hamstring injury a few weeks ago, sidelining him for two games- though he aggravated the injury during his team's win over the Bills on Monday night. Still, it seems like Jones, who will take on a Chiefs defense that ranks 31st in pass DVOA, will be out there for a big game Sunday. His recent injury track record makes him a risky play, but it could pay off if Sunday's game becomes high-scoring.