Rob Ninkovich proving to be a real edge-setter for Patriots
|10.27.11 at 12:03 pm ET|
FOXBORO — It’s one of the buzz-phrases around Gillette and the NFL this season: Setting the edge.
It’s what’s required of any linebacker who plays on the outside in a 4-3 scheme and carries with it a ton of responsibility.
It’s what has made Rob Ninkovich so valuable in the Patriots defensive system in 2011. He will be called upon to help stop the edge running game of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and the Steelers.
But the running back is just part of the rushing game for the Steelers. They also have the game’s best blocking receiver in Hines Ward, someone Ninkovich will keep an eye on at all times.
“Hines Ward is always someone out there who’s going to be able to throw those blocks to get that outside running game going so you have to be aware of where he is at on the field so you have to be prepared to play them tough,” Ninkovich said. “He’s definitely a big guy out there and he’s coming in on those cracks [crackback blocks] so you’ve got to be alert for him because he’s out to get you pretty good.”
Mendenhall, Redman and Mewelde Moore lead a rushing attack that has complimented the passing game of Ben Roethlisberger, an attack that is surprisingly considered pass-first and run-second in the city once home to rough and tumble football.
“They’ve got great running backs,” Ninkovich said. “Everybody is explosive, they’ve got speed and you have to respect everyone they have in the backfield because any play they have the ball, they can break a big one.
“They have a rotation going on that’s maybe keeping those guys a little more fresh but they’re all running hard so you have to respect everyone they have.”
With a bigger demand for pass rushing last season and the team still playing a base 3-4 defense, Ninkovich was called upon to rush the quarterback.
In 2010, during the Week 4 game against the Dolphins, Ninkovich recorded his first career interception, and later in the game added another interception and a sack. He finished the season with a career-high 62 tackles, four sacks, and two interceptions in 16 games played (10 starts).
The Patriots signed Ninkovich on Aug. 2, 2009. He made the team’s 53-man roster and recorded his first NFL sack in Week 5 against the Broncos. The Patriots liked what they saw early on, giving him a contract extension through the 2011 season on Nov. 6, 2009. Overall, he played in 15 games for the Pats in 2009, finishing with 23 tackles and one sack.
Since then, he has become one of the most reliable (and undervalued) players on the Patriots defense, a defense that has suddenly found its groove in the red zone, helping the Patriots to a 5-1 record.
“Right now, it’s so early in the season,” Ninkovich said. “We have a long way to go. You can’t look into records.”