Dont’a Hightower is expected to return to action for the Patriots on Sunday after missing each of the club’s past two games with a knee sprain, a source tells Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald. New England, notably, ranks dead last in the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, and defensive DVOA. With the Patriots’ defense clearly missing its leader, Hightower’s return can’t come too soon. As Howe writes, New England had been using Hightower as an edge defender, but several defensive mistakes could lead the Pats to shift Hightower back to his natural off-ball linebacker position. Elandon Roberts, and possibly Kyle Van Noy, will likely see his snaps reduced as a result of Hightower’s return.
Here’s more from the AFC:
- While Hightower will be back on the field in New England, the same can’t be said for Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who is expected to miss Sunday’s game against the Bengals, reports Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft, hasn’t played a regular season down this year as he deals with a high ankle sprain. Browns head coach Hue Jackson has hinted on multiple occasions that Garrett is “close” to returning, but the Texas A&M product will have to wait until at least Week 5 to make his NFL debut. Without Garrett in tow, Cleveland ranks just 23rd in adjusted sack rate.
- Raiders cornerback Sean Smith pleaded not guilty on charges of assault and battery stemming from an alleged July altercation, as Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review-Journal writes. The details of the incident are rather sordid, but Oakland head coach Jack Del Rio indicated the club would stand behind Smith until the legal process runs its course. On the field, Smith is no longer starting just one year after agreeing to a four-year, $38MM free agent contract. Thus far, he’s played only a quarter of the Raiders’ defensive snaps, fourth among Oakland corners.
- Punter Brandon Fields has announced his retirement from the NFL following a nine-year career, his agent announced on Twitter. Fields, 33, last played for the Saints in 2015, but is most well-known for his eight-season run with the Dolphins from 2007-14. The former seventh-round pick appeared in 130 career games and maintained a yards per punt average of 46.7.