Four Patriots players to watch Week 12 vs. Giants include underrated defender

Week 12 marks another game the Patriots have no right losing.

We’ll find out on Sunday if the Patriots let the Giants, led by undrafted rookie quarterback Tommy DeVito, let them beat them anyway.

The Patriots, despite their 2-8 record and embarrassing Week 10 loss to the Colts, actually opened as 3.5-point favorites over the 3-8 Giants, who are without starting quarterback Daniel Jones and backup Tyrod Taylor. Neither Bill Belichick’s Patriots nor old friend Brian Daboll’s Giants have played up to expectations through 12 weeks.

Here are the four Patriots players to watch Sunday.

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RB Rhamondre Stevenson

The Patriots young running back got off to a rough start this season but has now put together three straight impressive weeks. Stevenson is averaging 4.33 yards after contact per carry since Week 8. He was averaging just 1.91 yards after contact per carry through the first seven weeks.

Veteran Ezekiel Elliott has also seen improvement as the season has worn on. He averaged just 2.17 yards after contact per carry over the first five weeks and 3.00 yards after contact per carry since.

Both backs are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry on the season. Stevenson has 482 yards on 126 carries while Elliott has picked up 331 yards on 86 carries.

The Giants rank 28th in rush defense DVOA, so Stevenson and Elliott should have some room to run as long as the offensive line holds up.

Stevenson and Elliott haven’t been the two-headed monster some expected coming into the season, but they are at least playing better over the second half.

LG Cole Strange

If the Patriots are going to be able to run on the Giants, then they can’t let Dexter Lawrence wreck the game from defensive tackle. The Patriots will need Strange, center David Andrews and whoever is playing right guard on the top of their game.

They’ll be tested even more as pass blockers.

Lawrence is PFF’s top-graded interior defender with a 92.8 mark. He’s also PFF’s highest-graded interior defender as a pass rusher with a 92.5 mark. He has 53 total pressures with four sacks and 11 QB hits.

Strange has fared much better as a run blocker this season. He’s allowed two sacks, three QB hits and 13 hurries in six games. That’s the story of the Patriots’ interior offensive line this season. Strange, Andrews and right guard Sidy Sow all are graded considerably better in the run game.

Sow especially struggled as a pass blocker last week. The Patriots did start the clock on Riley Reiff’s return off of injured reserve. He could be a candidate to get some snaps at guard.

LB Jahlani Tavai

Tavai really just deserves more shine for the season he’s having as the Patriots’ top-graded defender on PFF. His 87.5 mark just tops Jabrill Peppers’ 85.9 grade.

The Lions, then head coached by former Patriots assistant Matt Patricia, drafted Tavai in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft before Belichick could take him. Tavai began his Patriots career as a practice squad player in early 2021, but he was promoted to active roster six weeks later.

He’s since become a key cog in what the Patriots do on defense as an “adjuster,” capable of playing middle outside linebacker in the box or outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage. He was rewarded for his solid play at the end of last season with a two-year, $4.4 million contract extension.

Defensive captain Ja’Whaun Bentley was a somewhat surprising inactive last week as he deals with a hamstring ailment. Tavai still split his time between multiple roles and tipped a pass from Colts QB Gardner Minshew that was intercepted by cornerback Myles Bryant.

It was the third time he’s been part of a turnover in a five-week span. He had an interception against the Raiders in Week 6 and forced a fumble in Week 9 against the Commanders.

With a 50.1 mark, Tavai has allowed the lowest passer rating among linebackers while in coverage this season. He’s PFF’s fourth-highest-graded linebacker.

CB J.C. Jackson

The veteran cornerback took accountability when asked by MassLive why he didn’t travel to Germany with the rest of the team for Week 10. He said he missed bed check at the team hotel prior to Week 9 and that it won’t happen again.

The Patriots need Jackson, and they need him to play well. Jack Jones, someone who could learn a thing or two about accountability, was cut after the Patriots’ trip to Germany, and Christian Gonzalez and Marcus Jones are on injured reserve. If Jackson doesn’t play, it will continue to be Jonathan Jones, Shaun Wade and Myles Bryant at cornerback for the Patriots.

Jackson has the potential to be the Patriots’ best cornerback. They’ve given him another chance. Let’s find out Sunday against DeVito what he’s going to do with it.

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