FOXBORO — First things first: Rob Ninkovich  isn’t going to talk about his hip.
“I’m not going to get into it,” the linebacker/edge rusher said when he met the media on Wednesday. “[Just] practicing and getting ready for this game.”
Ninkovich, who suffered a hip injury in the regular-season finale against the Dolphins, has been out at practice this week, and has appeared to move without an issue. That would be a positive sign for the Patriots, who have come to rely on Ninkovich greatly over the last two seasons for a variety of reasons, including his pass-rushing ability and his versatility. According to NFL gamebooks, Ninkovich led the team in quarterback hits (12) and sacks (8.5).
While Ninkovich wasn’t discussing his hip, he was happy to talk about the challenges the Texans provide, and was quick to add that he doesn’t expect the same Houston team this time around.
“They’re a good team. You have to look at the whole body of work for the things they’ve done throughout the year. They’re a very tough team,” Ninkovich said of Houston, which suffered a 42-14 loss to the Patriots in December. “The last time we played them, I don’t think that they were at their best, so this game we’re about to play here, we have to be on our best to come out there and match the energy that’s going to be out there because it’s definitely going to be a high energy game.
“They’re obviously going to do something different. They’re not just going to come out there and run the same stuff that they ran the first time they played us. You know that they’re going to change things up. The things that they didn’t do well they’re going to try to correct and it’s on us to make sure that we’re out there doing the best that we can to stop everything that they throw at us.”
The Texans offense features two unique wrinkles. One, they utilize a zone-blocking scheme which can be difficult for an opposing defensive line to deal with. And two, they use a lot of play-action, more than just about any team in the league.
“[They do] a good job of moving together,” Ninkovich said when asked about the Houston offensive line. “All the offensive linemen are athletic and they can move. The challenges for us as a D-line are to play strong, be fast and kind of reset the line of scrimmage. That’s your job really, is to get those guys knocked back and not be run into the sideline.”
And the key to stopping play action? Stay disciplined.
“Really, the play actions just come down to doing the best to stop the run first and foremost so they can’t set that up. When they do throw in the play action, you have to move quick to get up and pressure the quarterback,” Ninkovich said. “They do a good job of running the ball, setting up their plays to where you’re ready to stop the run and then they throw in that play action. So you really just have to do a great job of reading your keys and funneling to the ball as fast you can.