Behind them the depth is either coming off injury or largely unproven. In a league where your defense lives or dies by their pass rush, do the Pats have enough horses to control the edges for five-plus months?
Ninkovich, who has lined up as both a defensive end and linebacker over the course of his career in New England, could be leaned on to play a little more of a traditional linebacker role than he has recently. The Patriots have has recently added some veteran linebacking help, but it still remains a little thin outside.
After starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich, there was a noticeable drop on the depth chart in 2013. Even if Jones (98.1 percent of defensive snaps played) and Ninkovich (95.6 percent) come close to duplicating their ironman performances in 2014, a strong case could be made for reinforcements to give them a breather at times.
The four sacks that the Patriots’ defense collected on the day give the appearance that their pass rush was dominant when in fact the pressures were lacking all day long. The defense managed just 14 total pressures on the day and managed to pressure Tannehill on just 11 of 41 dropbacks. Even then, of those 14 pressures, four came on blitzes from corners and linebackers. The defensive line was generally ineffective and had a cumulative pass rushing grade of -5.0. The main culprit for the Patriots was Rob Ninkovich (-1.8) whose only pressure came via running back Daniel Thomas. It will be interesting to see if the high snap counts for Ninkovich and Chandler Jones(-0.4) catch up with them down the stretch. Jones leads all 4-3 defensive ends in snaps with 1002 while Ninkovich is second at 971.
I think one of the biggest problems of this season, and one that hasn’t been that affected by injuries, is the lack of depth at defensive end. When you break down the pass rush problems, I think that’s a big factor, even if Ninkovich and Chandler are pretty much set for the next few seasons as the starting defensive ends.
Michael Buchanan got the early nod but was a scratch on Sunday. Jake Bequette has been MIA all season and it seems likely he’s nothing more than camp fodder next season.
This forced them to bring back Andre Carter who unfortunately is not the same guy he was in 2011. The Pats should look long and hard for a designated pass rusher in the mold of 2011 Mark Anderson this offseason.
I don’t want to get into specifics of it, but by me being here as long as I have, I’ve kind of been able to experience multiple things that we’ve done as a defense,” Ninkovich said. “With anything that we do, I’m pretty experienced with being able to play linebacker or play [defensive] end. It’s something that I’ve done in the past and it’s good to just have some experience at both of those positions.
“A lot of teams don’t really have as much responsibility as far as (their ends) just getting off on the ball; they just want them to get off, get off, get off. For me, I can’t do that because it messes up how our team plays on defense. So my job really is to force the quarterback to make a decision early by getting pressure on him, but not running behind him. That’s one big thing that’s always told to me: never be behind the quarterback, that’s the worst place for a D-lineman to be. “So my approach is to start early in the game with some bull-rushes just to kind of set him up so they short set me, and then work an inside move to come down even more, and then get outside on him. If you watch any of my games, the first parts of the game, I’m usually more power rushes. And as the offensive line adjusts to how I’m doing that, then I will start working the edges a little bit more.”
PatsPropaganda is written and edited by Mike Dussault, a card-carrying Belichickian. He has a soft spot for hard core X's and O's, and believes in "throw to score, run to win", low pad level, and touchdown celebrations that last two weeks.
He is a Patriots Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report, and his work has been featured on FoxSports.com, Yahoo Sports, and SI.com. He also co-hosts the weekly PatsPropaganda & Frenz Podcast with Bleacher Report's AFC East Editor Erik Frenz.
PatsPropaganda was TruFan.com/CSNNE's 2011 winner for Best Patriots Blog.
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