Dont’a Hightower and the Patriots will have to tackle well to contain Marshawn Lynch. (Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower has seen enough of Marshawn Lynch to know he and his Patriots teammates better be in tackle mode next Sunday to stop Beastmode.
Hightower doesn’t need to look at Lynch’s regular season accomplishments of 1,306 yards and a career-best 13 touchdowns. All Hightower has to do is watch game film of how he’s been running in the playoffs.
In two postseason games, the All-Pro running back has carried the ball 39 times for 216 yards and a touchdown, including the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game against Green Bay, a team he sliced through for 157 yards. He is averaging 5.5 yards every time he touches the ball.
When defenses know he’s going to get the ball, what specifically makes him so difficult to defend?
“A little bit of everything. He’s aggressive, he’s strong, he’s got great vision, great balance, good feet ‘ he has everything that you would want in a back,” Hightower said. “His feet never stop moving no matter what he’s doing, whether it’s picking up blocks in protection or getting out on a screen pass or a check down. He’s always looking to make that big play.”
Hightower laughed Saturday when asked about how elusive Lynch can be in answering questions from the media.
“I think everybody’s seen that,” Hightower said. “I think it’s apparent that [he] doesn’t want to talk to the media. It is what it is. A lot of guys don’t want to, but you’ve kind of got to.”
Does Hightower think it’s funny?
“Yeah, I think it’s funny,” Hightower said. “I’m pretty sure you all think it’s funny, too, so don’t just put me up here and act like I’m the only one. But it is.”
But Hightower knows tackling Lynch in Glendale will be no joke.
Hightower is second on the Patriots in the playoffs with 11 total tackles so far, trailing Jamie Collins’ 15. Both linebackers will have to make sure to wrap up Lynch, who ranked fifth this season among running backs in the NFL with 639 yards after contact.
“Of course, especially tackling Lynch or Wilson or [Doug] Baldwin. They have great skill players who all have big-play impact,” Hightower said. “If you go back and you watch film, a lot of those plays were to get the ball to them real quick and out in space. Any time they can do that, they’re willing to take advantage of it, and that’s something they want, is to have that big-play ability.
“Again, everybody kind of looks at Lynch and thinks that he’s just an aggressor and wants to run everybody over. That might be his game, but I see it as both. He’ll run you over to get where he wants to get, but you never see him run out of bounds. He’s always looking to cut back and make those big plays and those 80- and those 70-yard touchdowns that you see. He does everything.”
Here were some other takeaways from Hightower’s media availability over the weekend at Gillette:
Q: Does the two-week break between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl affect your preparations?
DH: Absolutely not. This is a game that, [during] the OTAs and the offseason workout and stuff, this is the game we’ve all been training and getting ready for. This is the big show, so definitely approaching this game, trying to approach it like a regular week, but it means more than that. There is always going to be extra time in the film room, guys just talking outside, coaches being there, us just sitting down, chilling, watching film [and] picking each other’s brains just to make sure we’re all on the same page whenever that day comes.
Q: Describe the difficulty of defending their read option, with a back like Marshawn Lynch and a running quarterback like Russell Wilson.
DH: It’s definitely going to have to be an execution thing. Both of those guys mean a lot to their team ‘ not just their offense ‘ their team. We’re just really going to have to be able to execute 100 percent. Like you said, Lynch is probably the best running back in the league, and Russell Wilson is a dual threat. He runs when he needs to. He’s not always looking to pull it down and run, but if it’s there he’ll take it. Defending that is definitely going to be a big part in what we want to do to be successful come game day.
Q: How valuable is it to have experience playing against guys like Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch?
DH: Honestly, it’s really just going to come down to want to. You can do as many tackling drills as you want and you can get as many repetitions as you want, whatever, but it comes down to if you want to. If you don’t want to tackle, then you don’t want to tackle. So, it’s really just going to be guys; we’ll just have to get out there, get everybody to the ball and everybody’s going to want to tackle. There are going to be plays in the game where I’m pretty sure that him or Russell Wilson or Baldwin or [Ricardo] Lockett or somebody is going to be one-on-one, and it’s just going to come down to us wanting to tackle.
Q: How much motivation is it to not want to be a part of another Beast Mode video of him running through a defense?
DH: Yeah, no comment.
Q: ‘Deflategate’ ‘ have you had about enough of that?
DH: Yeah, no comment on that, too.
Q: Russell Wilson seems to get more dangerous as the game goes on. How much focus is there on his ability to make game-changing plays late in games?
DH: It means a lot, and I definitely feel like sometimes guys don’t always ‘ respect is not the word I’m looking for ‘ but don’t think people are as elusive as they seem. I feel like sometimes that people don’t always give Russell Wilson his credit for being a dual-threat quarterback. He can sit in the pocket and he can throw the deep ball and he can scramble around and make a deep ball throw there as well. It’s really just going to be coming down to execution.
Q: Were you surprised that Seattle was able to pull it off last week?
DH: They have a really good team. That’s why they’re back, and they all have big-play ability. That goes on the defensive side as well. So I’m not surprised.
Q: You’ve had a lot of success pressuring quarterbacks up the middle this year. Because of Wilson’s scrambling ability, do you almost not want to do that?
DH: You just have to be careful. I’m not going to throw out some of the game plan hints or whatever, but any time you’re rushing a dual-threat quarterback or a quarterback that’s mobile like [Joe] Flacco or Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, you always have to be careful rushing the pocket because they’ll scramble out to run and they’ll scramble to throw the ball downfield.
Q: Considering the weather today, are you excited to get to Arizona?
DH: Yes. Yes. I’m ready to get away from the snow.
Q: What are your thoughts on their offensive line?
DH: They look really good. Lynch is a great running back, but I definitely feel like his offensive line does a great, great job as far as getting off blocks and getting moving and getting them downfield. You can watch a lot of Lynch’s runs where there are a lot of linemen downfield pushing the pile, trying to knock guys off of Lynch and that gets Lynch those eight-to-10 extra yards. Their offensive line looks really good.