Breakdown: Ninkovich & help from friends
November, 14, 2011
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com
NBC ScreenshotsRob Ninkovich steps in front of LaDainian Tomlinson for a pick-6 late in Sunday's game.When Patriots linebacker Tracy White got beat on the winning touchdown last week against the Giants, he drew plenty of ire for getting caught playing the run in a situation that almost certainly required a pass. To his credit, he owned up to the mistake and remained confident in his ability.
Fellow linebacker Rob Ninkovich earned the trip to the podium after Sunday's two-interception effort in a 37-16 thrashing of the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium, but White deserves recognition for aiding Ninkovich's late-game interception return for a touchdown with the sort of tight end jam the Patriots desperately could have used last week.
Let's put Ninkovich's two interceptions under the microscope:
Let's be clear: Ninkovich made a heck of a play on his second interception, covering a lot of ground in order to step in front of running back LaDainian Tomlinson. But the interception doesn't happen without two key elements. First and maybe most importantly, White absolutely levels tight end Dustin Keller, sending him to the ground with a jarring jam that allowed Ninkovich the space to make a play. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez is forced to check down to his running back due in part to both solid coverage in the secondary and the fact that Mark Anderson gets quality pressure fighting his way up the middle despite only a three-man rush.
New York only has itself to blame for Ninkovich's first interception. Once again, good coverage downfield and quality pressure from former Jet Shaun Ellis forces Sanchez to check down to a running back. But his throw is less than ideal and the pass clangs off the hands of Shonn Green. Jerod Mayo, shifted back to the pure middle linebacker spot due to injuries, does a nice job to keep the ball alive by batting it up after it initially bounces off Green. Ninkovich again covers a lot of ground, changing direction to the middle of the field. Never giving up on the ball allowed him to make a key play that led to a field goal in what was then a close game.
During the week, much was made about whether the Jets could exploit the Patriots' dinged-up linebacker corps. The Jets did a decent job in the running game, but it was New England's linebackers that really stepped up in pass coverage and made key plays to aid Sunday's victory.