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Rob Ninkovich, Devin McCourty on M&M: ‘You can’t fool Peyton Manning’

01.13.14 at 12:48 pm ET
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Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich and defensive back Devin McCourty checked in with Mut & Merloni on WEEI’s Patriots Monday to discuss Saturday’s win over the Colts and the upcoming AFC championship game against the Broncos. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots kept Andrew Luck in check for most of Saturday's win over the Colts. (AP)

Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich could give Colts quarterback Andrew Luck a hand after Saturday’s game was out of reach. (AP)

“This week is going to be huge, this being the third straight AFC championship game we’ve been in,” McCourty said. “Last year was the worst feeling, to lose that game. I think it’s going to be key for all of the guys just to make sure as a team we understand this is a very important game. I know everyone knows that it’s a chance to go to the Super Bowl and all that. But not everyone is going to understand being on the other side of that, that we had to sit on last year. So, we’re going to prepare hard this week and be ready to go. I think it all starts with practice this week, and making sure we’re prepared, especially going against their offense, the top offense in the league this year, broke many records for NFL history. So, we’re going to have to really be ready.”

In Saturday’s game, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck completed 20-of-41 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns, but he had four interceptions. The Patriots also shut down his scrambling, limiting him to one carry for five yards, while sacking him twice.

“Going into the week that was one of our biggest areas of concern, was just him being able to extend a play with his legs — coverage does their job and then he pulls it down for a first down,” Ninkovich said. “When you go against a guy like that — any scrambling quarterback — you have to dial it down as far as your pressure and your rush.”

Rookie linebacker Jamie Collins had a stellar game, including a sack, an interception and solid coverage on Colts tight end Coby Fleener while playing every defensive down.

“Throughout the whole season you see glimpses of him with good athletic ability, coverage, stop the run,” Ninkovich said. “I’m happy that he was able to go out there and just make plays and help the team win. That’s what it’s all about.”

Added McCourty of Collins: “He’s a confident guy. I was so happy because we’ve been able to see that athleticism all year. Now we’re getting towards the end of the season and you get to see him put it all together and come out and have a game like he had Saturday night, I think it’s great. I think he’s going to continue to stay on that page because he’s working hard, he’s understanding the defense a lot more. He knows what he can do on that field, and he’s going out there and doing it.”

Sunday’s AFC title game presents the challenge of playing against Peyton Manning, whose ability to change plays at the line of scrimmage based on the defensive alignment is one of his best attributes.

“He’s checking every play to their best play against the defense,” Ninkovich said. “Whatever you’re in, whatever you’re showing, his calls are to try and give the receivers, the running back the best option to be successful. Whatever coverage you’re in, he’s telling the receivers, ‘Don’t run that route, run this route.’ So, they’re always trying to put their best up against the defense.”

Ninkovich said it’s difficult to disguise the coverages against an elite quarterback such as Manning.

“Those guys, to be honest, those quarterbacks, you can’t fool Tom [Brady], you can’t fool Peyton Manning. You’ve just got to play,” Ninkovich said. “Whatever coverage you’re in, if you’re in man, whatever routes they run, you cover them. If you’re in zone, be smart, read the quarterback. Hopefully your defensive line is doing their job to get him off the spot, not let him be comfortable in the pocket.

“At some point it comes down to just going out there and playing hard and making plays. When you go against great quarterbacks, that’s what it comes down to. Because they’re going to check the plays. They’re going to put themselves in the good positions to make plays, so you just have to go out there and prevent them from working down the field.”

Added McCourty: “Manning’s going to be out there, a chance to go to the Super Bowl, the AFC championship, he’s going to to do whatever it takes to win. I think that’s the best thing when you talk about Manning and Brady, they’re going to do what it takes to win. For us this last week it was running the ball. For them, if it’s throwing, if it’s running, that’s what we’ve got to expect. We’ll look at that film, break it down, see what we did well, see what we didn’t do well, because the things we didn’t do week, I’m sure they’re going to try to take advantage of it again.

“We’ve really got to be prepared. Julius Thomas is a big part of their offense. They didn’t have that weapon in the first game. You saw even yesterday they were able to use him at the end of the game to make some big plays and big catches to seal that win. We know it’s going to be tough with him out there along with the other three guys that make a lot of big plays for them.”

Following are more highlights from the interviews. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Ninkovich on the game being billed as Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning: “Because of the history that they’ve had in the past, they’re always going to look at that, the whole quarterback vs. quarterback thing. But there’s 52 other guys there that are helping the quarterback win the game. We have to do a good job during the week of defensively stopping whatever they want to do, trying to do our best to stop it, creating turnovers, and offensively just doing what they’ve done best, that’s continue to run the ball well and set up their play action, and just keep keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Ninkovich on the Broncos’ game plan: “I think they’re going to try and run the ball. The last time we played them they had success running the ball. It was a windy, cold day. I don’t think Peyton was going out there slinging it too well. So he was just saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to put it in my running backs’ hands. We’re getting some good yardage here.’ So again, I think that they’re going to continue to run the ball and be physical and try and set up those play-action shot plays, which they like to do.”

McCourty on the veterans having the young players ready to go: “I think the key for us is just to make sure we keep everyone as a team preparing. I think there’s no question that every man that’s on this team is going to come out Sunday and be ready to go, be fired up, play hard, give their best effort. But I think it’s key as veterans to make sure everyone is doing that throughout the week. We’re watching all the film we can watch. We’re taking care of our bodies. We’re getting enough sleep. I think that’s key, where veterans can step in and tell these young guys: Do all this during the week so you can have the best game and your body can be in the best shape, your brain, your mentality can all be in the best shape Sunday. Because you know when you’re young, you’re excited, you’re ready to go in this game, but you might not know all the steps you need to take going into the game. So as a veteran, that’s what I’m going to echo throughout the team, and I think that’s what we’re going to do as a whole.”

Read More: Andrew Luck, Devin McCourty, Jamie Collins, Peyton Manning
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