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‘Jets Killer’ Rob Ninkovich primed for another shot at Geno Smith and Gang Green

10.17.13 at 2:12 pm ET
By
Rob Ninkovich

Rob Ninkovich

FOXBORO — It’s Jets Week, so it only makes sense to spend time talking to Rob Ninkovich.

The Patriots defensive end has made life fairly miserable for New York over the course of the last few years, earning the nickname “Jets Killer” from coach Bill Belichick: Last season, in a 29-26 win over New York on Oct. 21,, he came through in the clutch, helping life New England past the Jets with an overtime sack and forced fumble against New York quarterback Mark Sanchez.

It was more of the same in 2011 — on Oct. 9, he finished with six tackles and half a sack in a 30-21 win over New York. He followed that up with a masterful performance on Nov. 13 in Jersey, when he picked off Sanchez twice, returning one of his interceptions for a touchdown, in a 37-16 road triumph.

To this point in the season, Ninkovich has been impressed by the Jets and their progression since the two teams met in Week 2, particularly when it comes to rookie quarterback Geno Smith and his ability to work in the New York offense.

“I think as the season has progressed, they’ve become more comfortable with the things that they’re doing,” Ninkovich said of the Jets. “That seems to happen with a team that likes to run that type of offense with the option and the reading of the quarterback, reading the defenses. The more reps you get at it, the better you kind of get at the whole operation.

“For us, it comes down to everyone doing their job and just knowing what your responsibility is before the ball is snapped. Just playing fast. The read option is to make them read what is going on, and the faster you can read it and make that hard decision, that’s when things go your way as far as a defensive player. So it’s our job to just know what your responsibility is every time you’re on the field.”

As a quarterback who can make things happen with his feet, Smith has shown an ability to scramble for yards when defenders overrun plays. For Ninkovich and fellow defensive end Chandler Jones, containment is a big point of emphasis this week — keeping Smith in the pocket and making sure he doesn’t have the chance to pick up the sort of chunk yards that can kill a defense. For the most part, they were able to do that in the Week 2 meeting: in that game, Smith had three carries for 17 yards.

“You just have to make sure that a guy like that doesn’t hurt you with his legs as far as extending a play,” Ninkovich said of Smith, who has 22 carries for 114 yards on the season. “Whenever a receiver can look back and see that the quarterback is out of the pocket, they just all scramble and try and get open. The defensive end position, it’s your job to keep them in the pocket and not let them get out of the pocket and run for a first down or throw it for a deep pass.”

For a pass rushing defensive end, a quarterback like Smith is a challenge for several reasons, not the least of which is that you have to occasionally fight that natural urge to pin your ears back and get after the quarterback. Instead, it’s more about containment, gap discipline and maintaining your rush lanes. If it all works, Ninkovich — who will be coming at Smith from the left defensive end spot, or the quarterback’s front side — and Jones (on the blind side) will be able to keep Smith bottled up like they did in Week 2. In that one, the Patriots were able to come away with four sacks and three picks of Smith in the 13-10 win.

“For me, it’s a little different, because I’m in his vision where he can see if I’m too far up the field and he can step up and run, so I just have to make sure that he doesn’t have a big open area to step up into and run,” Ninkovich said. “I’m just a little more conscious in my pass rush lanes and just being tighter in everything that I do.”

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