By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bill Belichick isn’t interested in lines of questioning over Kony Ealy. It’s hard to blame him, since the former Patriots defensive lineman quickly signed with the 3-2 Jets and has played surprisingly well when given opportunities.
Ealy has been the Jets’ highest-graded defensive lineman by Pro Football Focus with an “above average” 82.9 in five games so far, playing 156 total snaps (fourth-most among all Jets defensive linemen). He hasn’t racked up the sacks (that would be zero thus far), but he’s batted down five passes and even made an interception in their Week 4 win over the Jaguars.
So if Ealy still has the kind of talent that can impact games, why didn’t he work out in New England? What did Belichick miss? The Boston Sports Journal’s Greg Bedard said on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Felger & Mazz on Tuesday that he just couldn’t understand the Patriots’ complex defensive schemes, and the Jets have found success by simplifying his game.
Belichick will likely find ways for the current Patriots defense to improve with or without Ealy, but it’s still a wonder how the coaching staff couldn’t find a way for him to fit on a defense that has allowed the second-highest opposing passer rating (109.2) in the NFL through five weeks.
The head coach was fine with answering one, even two questions about Ealy during his Wednesday presser, even though he kept the player’s name out of his mouth. On Ealy’s ability to bat passes down, Belichick said “their whole defensive line does a good job of that.” On Ealy’s role in a 3-4 defense, he spoke at length about their linebacking corps.
The third Ealy question was about how his “ability to get up the field and bat balls at the line of scrimmage” suited him with the Jets, and that’s what brought out salty Belichick – often the best Belichick.
“Well, usually if you’re batting a pass then you’re in front of the quarterback. I mean, you’re not behind him,” said Belichick. “I mean, look, I don’t think they’re putting him in the game to bat down passes. Maybe I missed something here. I don’t know.”
It wasn’t the best-worded question, because it gave Belichick an easy opportunity to tear it apart. Obviously, ‘getting up the field’ and batting balls down are two separate skills that can’t exactly happen at the same time. But it was a sliver of an indication that Belichick was sick of hearing Ealy’s name, even after he specifically brought up his ability to bat passes earlier in the press conference.
To be fair, Ealy wasn’t as pricey of an acquisition as you may believe. The Patriots moved down eight spots in the draft, from 64th to 72nd, to get him from the Panthers. They didn’t just trade a second-round pick straight-up. They essentially took a flyer and it didn’t work out. But it’s curious that Ealy looked like he was on his way out of the league when the Patriots cut him, and now he’s looking like a legit talent in New York.
The only immediate concern over Ealy’s success with the Jets is that he very well could get to Tom Brady on Sunday at MetLife Stadium if the Patriots’ offensive line can’t improve its pass protection. Brady will clearly need to avoid throwing through Ealy’s arms, but the bigger worry is keeping his injured left shoulder from getting any worse.
The Patriots ultimately determined that Ealy wasn’t going to fit here, and Belichick, as usual, could turn out to be right. But in a season filled with early disappointment from their offseason additions, Ealy is arguably at the top of that list. The hope is that on Sunday, he doesn’t really come back to bite them.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.