FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ newest defensive tackle, Isaac Sopoaga, had quite the day Tuesday after finding out he’d been traded from the Eagles to the Patriots.
“Oh, you know about the meaning of the word ‘hectic’, right?” Sopoaga said. “When I found out yesterday, I was with the Eagles, and then, I have to drive to South Jersey to pack my stuff and get ready. You know how that feels.
“Doing your own ‘Fast and the Furious’ thing on the highway, even though it was a 50-m.p.h. speed limit. But us Samoan people, we go double the speed limit. I was going roadrunner speed.”
Listed at 6 feet 2 inches, 330 pounds, the 32-year-old Sopoaga opened his brief meeting with reporters by saying “Aloha,” and invoking a little prayer. He also stood on the chair in front of his stall — he was given the open locker next to Rob Ninkovich — making it easier for cameras to see him.
“We all have to work together, right?” he said.
Sopoaga couldn’t contain his excitement at being with New England.
“It’s like a dream come true, to be honest,” he said. “I respect these guys — the last 10 years, they’ve won three times, the Super Bowl. It’s just awesome. An awesome feeling.”
He added that Wednesday was his daughter’s fourth birthday, and that Tuesday and Wednesday felt like his birthday as well, thanks to the trade.
If Sopoaga (pronounced SOAP-oh-AH-gah) can help the Patriots shore up their problematic run defense, the team might not be as giddy as the former University of Hawaii standout, but it’ll surely be appreciative.
For the second straight year, New England made a deal at the NFL trade deadline, acquiring Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick in next year’s draft from Philadelphia in exchange for its fifth-round pick next May. It was the day’s only trade.
Coach Bill Belichick credited the Patriots’ director of player personnel, Nick Caserio, with orchestrating the deal on his team’s end. He described Sopoaga as a “strong guy, physical guy” Wednesday morning during his news conference, and stressed that he’s not an edge rusher, meaning he’ll be in the middle of the defensive line, as he’s been throughout his career.
A fourth-round pick in 2004, Sopoaga is two-down player. He likely will allow rookie Chris Jones to focus more on passing downs, as he’s shown strength as an interior pass rusher; his 4½ sacks in five games is tops among all rookies and third most in the league among defensive tackles.
The arrival of Sopoaga wasn’t the only thing that happened Wednesday that will help the Patriots’ run D. Tommy Kelly, who suffered a knee injury in Week 5 against the Bengals, was back on the practice field for the first time since that day. There’s no guarantee that he will play Sunday against the Steelers, but getting back to practice is obviously the first step toward playing.
Kelly was hurt a week after New England lost Vince Wilfork for the season to a torn right Achilles’, and the Patriots were down to just three healthy tackles: Jones, fellow rookie Joe Vellano, and inexperienced Marcus Forston, who was called up from the practice squad.
After the first four weeks of the season, the Patriots were ranked 14th in the NFL against the run, allowing an average of 105 yards per game, and 4.1 yards per carry.
Since then, against the Bengals, Saints, Jets, and Dolphins, they’ve given up an average of 156.5 yards per game, dropping them to the 31st-ranked run defense, though the yards per carry has slipped little in that time, to 4.2.
Though the Patriots look to be shoring things up, if they’re still weakened this week, it could help Pittsburgh. Normally known as a hard-running team, the Steelers are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, though a depleted offensive line has not helped their cause.
Rookie Le’Veon Bell, who has played the last four weeks after missing time at the start of the season because of a right foot injury, did pick up 93 yards against Baltimore two weeks ago, though he had just 24 yards on 13 attempts in Oakland last Sunday.
“We always want to run the ball well, regardless of who we’re playing and whether they’re good against the run or not good against the run,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “That has to be our mind-set and our mentality coming in: to be balanced, because that’s when we’re at our best.”
At 2-5 after the loss to the Raiders and averaging less than 18 points a game, Pittsburgh will be looking for any advantage it can find.