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Analysis: What does the trade for Isaac Sopoaga mean for Patriots?

10.29.13 at 4:24 pm ET
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The acquisition of defensive lineman Isaac Sopoaga fills a glaring void in the middle of New England’s run defense that had been a problem since Vince Wilfork went down last month with an Achilles injury.

A 6-foot-2, 330-pound run stuffer in the Wilfork mold, the 32-year-old Sopoaga projects to be the man in the middle for the Patriots when it comes to stopping the run. The Hawaii product, who is in his 10th season in the league, is a big body whose speciality is clogging up the middle and occupying double teams. The 32-year-old, who has played with the 49ers (2004-2012) and Eagles (2013), has played some defensive tackle and nose tackle in his career. He has 226 career tackles and seven career sacks. (He’s also played a little fullback, lining up in the backfield for a couple of plays last year for the Niners.)

Considered a 3-4 nose tackle, Sopoaga figures to take some of the workload off youngsters Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, who had stepped up and played well in the wake of the injuries to Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but now figure to work more in rotational situations (particularly Jones, who has shown a real nice ability to get after the passer). It wouldn’t be a surprise to see New England run more 3-4, at least until Kelly returns on a regular basis, with Sopoaga occupying the nose and Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones at the defensive end spots.

The Patriots were extremely stout against the run over the first month-plus of the season — through the first four games, New England was 13th in the league in rushing yards allowed per game, yielding an average of 105 yards per game on the ground. But over the last four weeks, they’ve given up 646 total rush yards to the Bengals, Saints, Jets and Dolphins — an average of 156.5 yards per game. Going into this weekend’s game against the Steelers, the Patriots are allowing 130.8 rushing yards per game, 31st in the league.

Financially, the Patriots aren’t taking a big hit, at least for 2013. Sopoaga signed 3-year deal with Eagles this year which called for him to make base salaries of $1 million in 2013, $3.75 million in 2014 and $3.5 million in 2015. (Those numbers could be adjusted down the road depending on how he takes to the New England system this year.) And the prospect of getting him for a draft pick smells of a relatively no-risk situation for the Patriots.

It marks the second consecutive year the Patriots pulled off a deadline deal — last year, New England acquired Aqib Talib at the deadline, and the cornerback has done a lot to transform the way the Patriots have played defense over the last year. If Sopoaga can come in and have even half the sort of impact defensively that Talib has shown over the last 12 months, New England will be very happy.

Read More: Aqib Talib, chandler jones, Chris Jones, Isaac Sopoaga
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