Tag:Rob Ninkovich
Posted on: January 11, 2012 2:40 pm
Edited on: January 11, 2012 9:40 pm

Film Room: Patriots vs Broncos divisional preview

Will Gronk get his Gronk on this time around? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

It was assumed the Patriots would draw a rematch in their divisional round playoff opener. However, most figured that rematch would be of their Week 8 bout with Pittsburgh, not their Week 15 bout with Denver.

Here’s the breakdown of what could turn out to be the highest-rated divisional round Saturday night game of all-time.

1. New England’s plan for Tebow
Something to keep in mind is the Steelers had a sound gameplan last week, playing man coverage and using a tepid pass-rush to ensure that Tim Tebow stayed in the pocket. What the Steelers didn’t count on was Demaryius Thomas being able to get by Ike Taylor and Tebow being able to pull the trigger on downfield throws. Those two young ’10 first-rounders both had career days.

The Patriots might bet that the two youngsters can’t do it again.

On the one hand, that’s a smart bet given that Thomas and Tebow were inconsistent all season (Tebow especially). On the other hand, it’s foolish given that cornerback Kyle Arrington – who would draw the Thomas matchup, as Thomas almost always lines up on the favorable side of the left-handed Tebow – is not half the cover artist Ike Taylor is, and given that logic says if Tebow can win against the man coverage of the league’s best pass defense, he can surely win against the man coverage of the league’s worst pass defense.

In the last meeting, the Patriots played predominant Cover 3 in the first half:

The Broncos had success throwing skinny posts to Tebow’s left against the Patriots Cover 3 defense in the last meeting. Cover 3 is what you’d guess it is: three defensive backs each responsible for a third of the field. Because there is so much field to cover, the outside defensive backs often play man-to-man concepts (as Devin McCourty is doing on the right side). Cover 3 is something defenses play when they blitz or when they want to force a quarterback to throw (it’s the default zone coverage behind an eight-defender box).

In this example, the Patriots were clearly baiting Tebow to throw. Notice there are only five rushers (which is hardly a blitz considering Denver has seven guys in pass protection – the idea was to keep Tebow from scrambling). Also notice how linebacker Dane Fletcher has his back to the quarterback and is running towards the left passing window. (Fletcher was late getting there; Tebow did a good job recognizing the coverage and getting the ball out quickly. The result was a 22-yard completion to Eric Decker.)

The Broncos used great routes for beating this anticipated coverage, but Tebow was unable to connect on some of the throws.

Still, throws against Cover 3 are easier than throws against quality press-man, as long as the pass protection holds up. Denver’s protection was tremendous last week.

If tackles Ryan Clady and Orlando Franklin (who may need some help on the right side) can keep speed-rusher Mark Anderson at bay, the Broncos will be golden. (Keeping a backup like Anderson at bay may not sound difficult, but the former Bear was actually very disruptive in the last meeting.)

2. Stop the run!
The Patriots gave up 167 yards rushing in the first quarter of the Week 15 contest. They wound up winning the game handily, but they were on the fortuitous side of a few fumbles.

Common sense says you can’t bank on having success with such porous run defense. The issue last game was outside linebacker Rob Ninkovich’s inability to set the edge and the defensive line’s inability to prevent the Bronco linemen from contacting inside linebackers. This was a problem both with New England’s 3-4 and 4-3 fronts.

Nose tackle Vince Wilfork must stand out more this time around. The Broncos will be willing at times to block him one-on-one with J.D. Walton. The second-year center has been up-and-down (in a good way) handling tough solo assignments against nose tackles down the stretch this season. He was phenomenal against Antonio Garay of the Chargers in Week 12 but had been just so-so the previous week against Sione Pouha of the Jets. In Week 15 he held his own against Wilfork, but in Week 16 he got schooled by Marcell Dareus.
If Walton has a strong game, the Broncos can pound the rock inside. If he struggles, Denver’s at least capable of getting to the perimeter, though they’ll miss the fervid blocking of wideout Eric Decker.

3. Defending the Patriots tight ends
Greg Cosell, executive producer of the NFL Matchup Show, did an excellent job breaking down the Week 15 film back in December. Cosell wrote that the Broncos focused their coverages on Rob Gronkowski, successfully disrupting his timing by hitting him at the line of scrimmage.

However, that left fourth-round rookie safety Quinton Carter on Aaron Hernandez. Carter, like the rest of Denver’s safeties, is not great in man coverage, which Hernandez proved by posting what were at the time his career highs in catches (nine) and yards (129).

Though still a little green as a route runner (particularly against zone), Hernandez has the movement skills of a wide receiver. The Broncos may choose to defend him with rising rookie nickel back Chris Harris. That would leave safeties and linebackers to cover Gronkowski.

Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen may figure he can get away with that as long as coverage linebackers Wesley Woodyard and D.J. Williams are once again physical with the second-year superstar.

The Patriots’ counter to this would be splitting Gronkowski into a slot receiver position (likely in a spread 2 x 2 or 3 x 2 set), where he could line up a few yards off the line and operate against an overwhelmed defender in space. Even if the Broncos decided to sacrifice their run defense by going with dime personnel against the two tight ends, they still would be overmatched.

After all, just because Jonathan Wilhite is a corner doesn’t mean he can cover Gronkowski. This is the problem New England’s offense poses, this is why the Patriots are the No. 1 seed.

4. If lightning strikes twice ...
As the tight end analysis just suggested, the Broncos are faced with a very serious matchup problem that can only be solved by their players rising up and doing things no one thought they could do. It’s improbable, but as Denver’s offense showed last week, not impossible.

So let’s say for the sake of extra analysis that the Broncos can stop Gronkowski and Hernandez with their inside pass defenders. That leaves outside corners Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman on Wes Welker and Deion Branch (who did not play in the last matchup).

If the Broncos want to avoid the matchup problems that New England’s flexible formations create (such as Welker working against a linebacker in the slot), they’ll have to play man-to-man, with Bailey assigned on Welker and Goodman on Branch. Those aren’t bad matchups for either side – it would come down to who executes better (general rule of thumb, over the course of 60 minutes, put your money on the offense).

What we’re not considering is New England’s ability to run the ball. They’re not known for that, but against nickel or dime defense, they’re capable of controlling the game the old fashioned way.

Danny Woodhead has great lateral agility. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a steady, highly professional runner. Of course, he may lose snaps to the more dynamic Stevan Ridley, a third-round rookie who has come on as of late. The Patriots have an excellent run-blocking front five with LG Logan Mankins being a premier puller, RG Brian Waters a shrewd playside anchor, LT Matt Light a crafty angles-creator (including at the second level) and RT Nate Solder a ridiculous athlete out in front.

5. Broncos pass-rush slowing down?
Pass-rush pressure is always a prerequisite for beating Tom Brady. Lately, the Patriots have nullified it with an increased emphasis on three-and five-step drops. Brady is especially sharp at this when working out of an empty backfield.

The Broncos have not had the most fervid pass-rush the last month anyway. They sacked Brady just twice in Week 15. They got Ryan Fitzpatrick just once the next week and Kyle Orton once in the season finale. They got to Ben Roethlisberger in the wild card round but that’s a product of Roethlisberger’s style of play. Denver’s pass-rush did not control the flow of last Saturday’s game. Von Miller has had just one sack since his first game back from a thumb injury (December 11 at Minnesota) and has been less explosive playing with a cast.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all divisional-round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:31 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 7:25 am

Offseason Checkup: New England Patriots

Posted by Josh Katzowitz


Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups .

The Patriots were probably the best team in football last season, compiling a 14-2 record before surprisingly losing to the Jets in the second round of the playoffs. Let’s see what New England had: Outstanding QB, check. Pretty good running game, check. A good enough offensive line and wide receiving corps, yes. A rock-solid defense, um, no.

The team had its problems on defense – which is talented but oh so young – but the wizardry of Brady who knows coach Bill Belichick’s system so well overcame most of those defensive hiccups. The Patriots haven’t had a losing season this century, so whatever constructive criticism that follows in this piece doesn’t suggest that the Patriots suddenly will struggle to win games. With Belichick, that simply doesn’t happen very often (unless, ahem, he’s donning the headset in Cleveland).

Recent unsuccessful playoff runs

A ridiculous statistic for you: the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game since the 2007 AFC championship game. That’s right, since that undefeated New England squad lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, the Ravens in the 2009 playoffs and the Jets in 2010 – all three of those were considered upsets, as well.

Doesn’t matter that New England has an annual chokehold on the AFC East (though New York is beginning to threaten that dominance), the Patriots can’t get anywhere in the playoffs. They haven’t won a Super Bowl in six years. So, what’s the problem?

1. Wide Receiver
Getting rid of Randy Moss probably was the right call for New England, but when the Patriots sent him away, they also lost their downfield threat. You might argue that Moss’ skills are in decline – and the Titans would DEFINITELY say that – but he’s still quite a long-ball receiver. Wes Welker is one of the best slot receivers in the game, Deion Branch had a nice comeback year and New England’s young tight ends are really solid. But a Moss-like receiver would be welcome.

2. More DL depth
Mike Wright and Ron Brace missed a combined nine regular-season games last season before injuries forced them to the Injured Reserve lists while Ty Warren missed the entire year, and a trio of rookies (two of whom were undrafted) were forced to step in and replace them. What the Patriots need in this year’s draft is a pass rusher off the edge, and since they have a plethora of draft picks, they could certainly try to trade up and find one. Wright, with 5.5 sacks, was the team leader, and following behind him were LBs Tully Banta-Cain and Rob Ninkovich. They need some help on the DL, though newly-signed Marcus Stroud could certainly ease some of that burden.

3. Better secondary play
Devin McCourtey had a strong rookie season, leading the team with seven interceptions and Leigh Bodden – who missed all of last year – will be a definite upgrade over Kyle Arrington. Pat Chung is solid at the SS spot, but FS Brandon Meriweather wasn’t very good last season (how he made the Pro Bowl is baffling). It would not be a surprise if New England tries to replace him.

The Patriots obviously have some corrections that need to be made. But this franchise has been the best – and most feared – in the NFL since Belichick took over (though Rex Ryan absolutely will NOT kiss his rings), and he doesn’t hesitate to get rid of loyal Patriots who he feels can’t help them anymore (I’m looking at you Richard Seymour, Adam Vinatieri, et al). The Patriots will continue to battle with the Jets for AFC East dominance, but like usual, New England will be a preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl.

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Posted on: October 8, 2010 11:48 am

Five Questions (or more) with Rob Ninkovich

R. Ninkovich had a breakout game last week vs. Miami, intercepting two sacks and tallying a sack (AP). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

New England linebacker Rob Ninkovich had his breakout game last Monday in Miami. Before the Patriots special teams took over the game, Ninkovich was a dominant force in the middle of the field. He intercepted Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne twice – the first two picks of Ninkovich’s career – and he finished the Patriots win with four tackles and a sack.

After a two-year career at Purdue, the Saints drafted him in the fifth round in 2006. He played only three games before suffering a knee injury. The next season after hurting his other knee, the Saints waived him. He soon caught on with the Dolphins. Despite playing a few games, he was soon released and signed to Miami’s practice squad. Then, the Saints re-signed him but soon re-released him.

Eventually, he caught on with New England, and in Week 2 of the 2010 season, he started his first game. But if you hadn’t heard of him before last Monday, don’t worry. More than likely, most other NFL fans you know hadn’t heard of him either.

Previous Five Questions (or more) With …

Oct. 1: Kent Babb of the KC Star

Sept. 24: Texans WR Kevin Walter

Sept. 17: former Bengals, Titans DT John Thornton

Sept. 11: Seahawks RB Leon Washington

1. CBSSports.com: Obviously, it’s been pretty quiet in New England the past few days. But even with the Randy Moss stuff going on, you guys also have a bye this week. I assume you wouldn’t want the bye so early in the year, but what are your thoughts about having it in Week 5?

Rob Ninkovich: Obviously, it’s a long season. Anytime you can get a bye week maybe halfway through the year, that can help you a little bit. But it’s just the way it is. You have to deal with it. Get through the first four weeks and do the best you can in the first four games, get a break and finish strong. It’s just one of those things where some guys have it early and some later. You just have to deal with it.

2. CBS: The team is 3-1 and tied for first in the division, but I think many people are saying the Jets are the team to beat in the AFC East. Still, are you guys happy with where you are, considering where you stand in the division right now?

Ninkovich: You really can’t be happy. In this league, every team is so good, and you just have to get through each week. You have to win and keep winning. We’re just focusing on the next week, which is a big game for us. The last time we played Baltimore, it wasn’t the best. With us having this bye week, it gives us extra time to prepare for the Ravens. Every week, we’re focusing on whoever is in front of us.

CBS: I wonder this. Because everybody seems to be on the same page in New England with what you guys say to the media and just the attitude you have being coached by Bill Belichick, what’s the atmosphere like in New England for a player?

Ninkovich: You come in and do your job. That’s the number one thing. You do what’s asked of you. You do everything to the best of your abilities. You don’t complain. You don’t say nothing. I like that. That’s the kind of person I am. I’m not really a big talker. I don’t need to say anything. I just go out and do what I’m supposed to do. This atmosphere is that everybody is working for one goal. That’s to win the division and go far in the playoffs and get to the Super Bowl.

CBS: Is it different than other locker rooms you’ve been in?

Ninkovich: Yeah. Definitely the expectations are high. If you lose five games here, it’s a bad season. With the expectations so high here, you have to be able to play at that high level. It’s just one of those things where you just do your job.

3. CBS: It’d be silly if I didn’t ask you this. But so much attention has been paid to you guys the past couple days because of the Randy Moss situation. It’s a bye week, so maybe you haven’t been distracted by it. But with so much talk about Moss and whether he had incidents with other coaches, what’s the locker room been like the past few days?

Ninkovich: We’ve had a couple days off. I really didn’t pay attention to it. I wasn’t looking at it that much. With this business we’re all involved in, it happens. You have to accept what happens. You have to accept that roster moves took place and move onto the next week. You can’t worry about other people. You just worry about yourself.

4. CBS : On a personal level, what was the Miami game like for you? It was kind of your breakout game, and after having been in the league for a few years, getting waived by a few teams, what was it like to have a game like that?

It felt great. Especially playing against a team that I had been at and had been on the practice squad and they didn’t think I could play. It’s always good to go out and play well against a team that didn’t really want you. I’m happy I went out there and played well. That’s a huge win for us as a team. All three phases were playing really well. At the end of the game, it’s like a surreal thing. It didn’t hit me until later that I had a pretty good game.

CBS: I was talking to Kevin Walter of Houston a few weeks ago, and you guys have similar paths. Guys who didn’t come into the league with much fanfare who have been waived by a few teams before breaking out. Walter has been really good the past few years, and I wonder how you keep fighting through what might be a negative perception about you whether you can play in the league?

Ninkovich: It’s believing in yourself and continuing to work hard and doing what you have to do to prepare. Every year for me, I go into training camp and I know I have four games so I can show these coaches I can play and do well. My first year, I had a setback with an ACL injury. I was playing defense for the Saints, and I had an ACL tear and that took me out of my rookie year. My second year, I had another injury to my other knee. Then I was in Miami with (Bill) Parcells, they wanted me to move to inside linebacker. It was not something I was a fan of, but I took it in stride. It’s been a crazy world. You keep working and you keep grinding. Hard work pays off.

CBS: Because you had been in New England last year, was it easier coming into camp this year?

Ninkovich: Much better than last year. Last year, I came into training camp a week into training camp. I was already a week late. It wasn’t the easiest thing learning the playbook. This year coming into OTAs and minicamp, it was definitely easier being able to get into the playbook. I was pretty excited and I knew it was going to be a chance for me to be a big part of the defense.

5. CBS: Your dad was – or is – an ironworker in Chicago, right?

Yeah, he still is.

CBS: I read somewhere where during a summer in college, you worked with him as an ironworker. Is that right?

For two weeks, I worked the night shift. Ironworkers, any type of blue-collar job, I have a lot of respect for guys who do that, and my father is in that group. He works seven days a week. He doesn’t get vacation. If he wants to get a week off, he has to make sure he works a couple extra weekends so he can get the money. With me doing that in one summer, it really opened my eyes. It’s not something I’d want to do for forty years or fifty years. My dad always said that it’s fun while you’re young, because you’re making money.

But when you’re 50 and it’s 20 degrees below zero and you’re sitting on an iron beam, it’s not much fun. He said come do this for a couple weeks, and it was a good experience for me to see what my dad has been doing for the last 30 years.

What did you do?

Ninkovich: We were putting up a bridge. I was pretty high up there. We were in these big tall lifts. What they do is have a big beam, and they tie two ropes on the end. They have two guys on the side, and all these guys are trying to get the beam in the right spot. You have to have great communication, because it’s very dangerous. It’s very intense. You have a lot of stuff going on. You could lose a finger. You could fall and die. It was eye opening to me.

CBS: Compared to that, football must seem easy.

Football is you going to college and getting your degree, and you keep going if you’re good enough. I knew I didn’t want to be an ironworker for the rest of my life.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com