|Rob Ninkovich looks to keep his streak alive against Rams||10.25.12 at 11:10 pm ET|
FOXBORO — Rob Ninkovich has a simple formula for success.
“Just keep playing hard and get around the ball, and things happen,” he said Thursday morning.
Lots of good things have happened for Ninkovich over the last few weeks, as the linebacker/defensive end has come up big at several key moments for the Patriots. The Purdue product leads the team with four forced fumbles in four straight games. If he reaches five, he’ll tie Mike Vrabel for the most forced fumbles for a New England player within the last 20 years. (Vrabel reached the mark in 2007.)
That includes his role in a strip-sack of Mark Sanchez to close out the Jets in overtime last weekend, the latest in a long line of performances that has earned him the nickname “Jet Killer” from coach Bill Belichick.
“It’s not just sacking the quarterback, but as you go to tackle him that you have an awareness of where the ball is,” Belichick said. “Rob has done that on numerous occasions, including last year as well. He has a good feel for that.
“It’s just an instinctive play that we coach and we talk about, but every play like that is different. It’s really the player’s awareness — in this case Rob’s awareness — that made it a game-changing play. Not only did he finish the tackle; he had that awareness of the ball being down to his left side and was able to knock it out and once he knew the ball was out then he instinctively rolled over Mark and just came up and recovered it.
“It’s a heads-up play by Rob that we’ve worked hard on it, and Rob has really had several opportunities to do this year and he’s done it well in all of them.”
In addition, he and rookie Chandler Jones have combined to form the bulk of the New England pass rush: Jones leads the team with eight quarterback hits and five sacks, but Ninkovich is second in both departments with four sacks (for 21 yards lost), and quarterback hits (five).
“The more you watch them, I think the more impressive both of them become. Especially the last couple weeks, I think they’ve kind of found their groove,” Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said of Ninkovich and Jones.
“They’ve put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They do a great job of never going around the quarterback, never taking themselves out of the rush. They’re always right there around you. So there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to take care of the edges this week or they’ll cause turnovers just like they did last week.”
The 6-foot-2, 260-pound Ninkovich returned the compliment on Thursday. Before boarding a plane for London in advance of Sunday’s game against the Rams, he sounded impressed at what both Bradford and running back Steven Jackson have accomplished to this point in their careers, and said they’ll be a tough out come Sunday.
“[Bradford is] a good quarterback — he can make all the throws,” said Ninkovich. “They have a running back back there that can make a few plays as well. As a defense, we have to do a good job of stopping him first and not letting Bradford beat us with some good throws.
“I think [Jackson has] got six years over 1,000 yards. He’s been a great running back for some years now,” he added. “You just have to make sure you don’t let him have a breakout game against you.”
While the Patriots’ pass defense has struggled, the run defense remains one of the best in the league.
“We really pride ourselves on stopping the run first, so as long as you do that and make the game more one-dimensional, it’s just going to help your defense in the long run,” he said.
“I think we work well together as a [run defense] — I think that starts in training camp. The front seven forms a tight unit there, and we kind of play off each other and try and understand our responsibilities are.”
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