Patriots pass rush to face generous Rams offensive line


Patriots pass rush to face generous Rams offensive line

FOXBORO -- The lasting image of the Patriots 29-26 overtime win over the Jets was Rob Ninkovich knocking the ball loose from Mark Sanchez's right hand, then pouncing on top of it for a game-ending fumble recovery. It was a nice moment for a defense that has had only a handful this season.

"You don't see too many of those, the defense winning the game at the end of the game," Ninkovich said of his walk-off moment. "So it felt great to get that."

However, that play -- an example of a spry and effective pass rush -- was the exception and not the rule on Sunday. The Patriots totaled four sacks in all against the Jets, but when their pass-rush was successful, it was often more a product of -- believe it or not -- good coverage than it was a quick penetration of the Jets offensive line.

New England's secondary has received much of the blame for the team's faulty pass defense, and while it deserves criticism, the Patriots' defensive front seven have had their hand in the failure as well. Without a pass rush, the depleted and inexperienced secondary is asked to cover for a longer period of time -- a losing proposition no matter the personnel.

Against the Rams, however, the Patriots pass rush may have a chance for a breakout day. St. Louis has given up the third most sacks in the NFL to this point (21) and features an offensive line group loaded with former backups and journeymen.

"I did see that stat that they give up a lot of sacks," said rookie defensive end Chandler Jones. "You go into every game with the same mentality. When it's third-and-long you rush the passer. When it's fourth-and-one or third-and-one, you're playing the run. Whatever they give you, you take it."

There could be more there for the taking this week than most others, and it would benefit the Patriots to be opportunistic.

When New England used both of its first round picks in this year's draft, they made a concerted effort to address their pass rush. Jones has been the team's best rusher, coming up with five sacks and three forced fumbles in seven games. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower, who returned from a hamstring injury against the Jets to notch seven tackles and a key sack on Sanchez in the fourth quarter, has also showed some promise as a rusher.  

But the work load can't all fall on the shoulders of the rookies. Ninkovich has to continue to produce when he gets his chances, and if others could chip in, all the better.

Pass-rush specialist Jermaine Cunningham hasn't been a consistent threat, but he made a nice move to free up Ninkovich on the final play against the Jets. Who knows? A little more of that may work wonders for the Patriots secondary.

Could this week, against a struggling Rams offensive line, be the week where it all comes together for the pass rush? If the Patriots are licking their chops, they aren't doing it publicly.

"Every week we do our best to game plan against the people we're playing against," Ninkovich said. "This week's just like every other week. We do a great job during the week of scouting who we're going against and trying to get our best game plan against those guys. This week we'll do the same."

Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?


Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?

BRIGHTON, MASS -- It didn’t take last season’s embarrassing Winter Classic result to figure out something has been missing from the storied, legendary Bruins-Canadiens rivalry over the last few years.

The last traces of the latest, great incarnation of the B’s-Habs rivalry were clearly still there a couple of seasons ago when the two hockey clubs met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling short the last few times the teams met in the postseason, Boston was summarily dismissed by Montreal in Game 7 on their own home ice during that series. The following season the B’s simply had so many of their own players struggling to put out a consistent effort, so the games against the Habs didn’t really register highly on the importance scale, and last season both Boston and Montreal suffered through subpar seasons that saw them each fall short of the playoffs.

Since the second round loss to the Habs in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Bruins are 2-7 while being outscored by a 31-18 margin in nine regular season meetings over the last two seasons in an incredibly one-sided chapter in the two teams’ shared history. The real lack of competitiveness has been a noticeable lack of deep emotion or ill will on the ice between the two hockey clubs, and that is very different from the recent past when signature players like Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton were card-carrying members of healthy hate that regularly spilled out on the ice between the two rival NHL organizations.

Instead it will probably be new blood that breathes glorious, hard-edged life into the history between the two Original Six teams, and new personalities like David Backes, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are likely to do just that. Certainly the Canadiens wanted to be much more difficult to play against in recruiting players like Shaw and Weber, and, their presence along with the offensively explosive Alex Radulov, could make it a tough matchup for the Black and Gold.

Either way, the Bruins are curious to see what the matchup looks like this season with the electric P.K. Subban removed from the mix as one of the classic Habs villain-type characters from a Boston perspective.

“It’s always fun to play Montreal at home, or in Montreal. This will be our second time counting the preseason, and our first time at the Garden. It’s going to be pretty cool,” said David Krejci. “When you say any NHL team there are a few names that pop out for that team, and [P.K. Subban] was definitely one of them [for Montreal]. But P.K. is gone, and now it’s Shea Weber. So it’s going to be a little different, but he’s a hell of a player as well so it isn’t going to be any easier.

“It’s a big game. It’s a division game. We don’t want to take any game lightly within the 82 games because you don’t know what can happen at the end. When those games against [Montreal] are done you always feel like you’ve played two games, and not just one. It’s high intensity, and it’s obviously a rivalry that you get up for.”

As Bruins head coach Claude Julien would say it, things are a bit too civilized between the two enemy teams when thinking back to the days of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice challenging him a fight on the Bell Centre ice, or the awful epoch in B’s-Habs history when Zdeno Chara clobbered Max Pacioretty with a dangerous, injury-inducing hit into the stanchion area.

Nobody is looking for players to get hurt on borderline plays when the two teams suit up on Saturday night, but something to introduce a new chapter into the Boston-Montreal rivalry would be a good thing for both teams, a good thing for the fans and a potentially great thing for an NHL that prides itself on good, old-fashioned rivalries.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready to play [on Saturday]. I like the way that we’ve played so far, and except for Toronto we’ve managed to compete with all of the teams that we’ve played against,” said Julien. “I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but I’m going to use the word that [the rivalry] has been more civilized for the last few years. There hasn’t been as much of the sideshow as there has been [in the past].

“I think there’s still a lot of hatred between the two organizations when they meet, but I think the way the game is trending, and how costly that penalties can be in a game, both teams are a little cautious in that way. I still think there is great intensity and both teams get up for the games, so hopefully that happens tomorrow, and the fans get to see a good game.”

One thing that should ensure a good, familiar showdown with plenty of hard-hitting and honest-to-goodness rivalry-like behavior: both the Canadiens and Bruins are off to strong starts at the top of the Atlantic Division in the first couple of weeks this season, and there are some new faces that are undoubtedly going to want to announce their presence for these Bruins-Habs tilts with authority.

Let’s hope this happens because last season’s Bruins-Habs games needed a pair of jumper cables and 1.21 jigowatts of electricity to shock them back into their elevated level of intensity, and that’s when hockey is served best after all.