The long snapper turned part time linebacker turned starting defensive end has quite the story. He also had quite the game last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Every Thursday, Greg Bedard of MMQB.com's Pressure Points column examines the best pass rushers of the week. He doesn't just look at stats, but at advanced stats and game film. After review, Ninkovich came out as one of the best pass rushers in the NFL last week, and earned his second "Unsung Edge Rusher of the Week" award. Though, as Bedard notes, maybe he's not so unsung anymore.
Nink was the third best pass rusher in the league in Week 8, getting himself 5 quarterback hurries, 2 hits, 1 easy sack and 2 sack assists. Not a bad day.
Despite Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich being regulars at the top of the weekly pressure points, the Patriots defense is currently low in the league on pressure points (tied for 21st). As Bedard and Ninkovich explain though, it's kind of by design.
The Patriots ask more of their defensive ends than just pinning their ears back and going after the passer. Discipline is key to play the position in the New England system, Ninkovich explains.
“Me playing on the left side of the line of scrimmage, it’s one of the most important parts for a defensive end as far as keeping leverage on the quarterback,” Ninkovich said. “It’s more important for me to keep the quarterback in the pocket, not let him scramble around than it is to take a shot and just run around the edge.
“A lot of teams don’t really have as much responsibility as far as (their ends) just getting off on the ball; they just want them to get off, get off, get off. For me, I can’t do that because it messes up how our team plays on defense. So my job really is to force the quarterback to make a decision early by getting pressure on him, but not running behind him. That’s one big thing that’s always told to me: never be behind the quarterback, that’s the worst place for a D-lineman to be.
“So my approach is to start early in the game with some bull-rushes just to kind of set him up so they short set me, and then work an inside move to come down even more, and then get outside on him. If you watch any of my games, the first parts of the game, I’m usually more power rushes. And as the offensive line adjusts to how I’m doing that, then I will start working the edges a little bit more.”
Ninkovich is the kind of player that Patriots fans really love. A real rags to riches story (having been cut as the Saints long snapper) who is flourishing as a starter in Belichick's system. While the Patriots defense hasn't been very good the past few seasons, it's made a major turn around this year.
A lot of that is owed to the play of recently extended Ninkovich.