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."

What makes a good manager? Rangers GM Jon Daniels explains


What makes a good manager? Rangers GM Jon Daniels explains

Across the way from John Farrell in the Rangers dugout this series is a manager who was voted the American League’s best in his first year at the helm, 2015.

Jeff Banister is one of three full-time skippers Rangers president Jon Daniels has had in his time running the Rangers.

Much has been made about how Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski views the manager’s job: that in-game management isn’t the most important, but running the clubhouse is.

How does another top baseball exec look at it? Daniels explained on the CSNNE Baseball Show podcast.

“I think manager’s an enormous role,” Daniels said. “Huge importance, I don’t buy into any of the sort of snarky commentary. … What I think sometimes gets a little blown out of proportions, at times whether it’s lineup construction, some of those — the in-game stuff, bullpen management’s very real. 

“Certainly the knowledge of the game is big. I think the ability to teach the game is big. But the No. 1 separator, in my opinion, is managing people. It’s really the word ‘manager.’ Helping to mold the culture in the clubhouse. Getting everybody on the same page. Young players, older players, everybody’s got different self-interests and to be able to get all those unique self-interests enough on the same page for a common goal while representing the club publicly, with the media, with the fans, and doing it under a pretty intense spotlight — I think that’s the biggest piece. Probably the hardest to truly evaluate unless you’re like, in the clubhouse or around the clubhouse on a daily basis and have a sense for who’s good at it, who’s not. That for me is like where guys really separate themselves.”

Asked if he’s ever surprised by player sensitivity, Daniels underscored what stage of life most ballplayers are in.

“Everybody’s different, right?” Daniels said. “So everyone has different insecurities, everyone has different level of ego, grown up in different circumstances. At the end of the day everybody wants a few basic things. You want to be like kind of communicated on a pretty forthright, direct way. You want to be treated with respect. Some guys can handle a little more criticism than others. 

“Some guys can handle a little more criticism from their peers than others can. I think that’s a manager’s job, to understand kind of the different approaches. Players, the guys are in their 20s. Think about where you were when you were first out of college … a few years off that, and your maturity level and really your lack of life experience in a lot of ways. And, kind of like evaluate under those circumstances: you’re going to be somewhat sensitive when you’re in that time period in your life.”

How well a manager handles a clubhouse isn’t something the Rangers, at least, have tried to quantify.

“More anecdotal for me. There may be ways,” Daniels said. “I haven’t really been part of that. If there is [a way] we haven’t figured it out, and we haven’t really tried to do, to be honest with you.”

For the full interview, listen to the podcast below

Brown (hip) and Johnson (shoulder) will play in Game 5

Brown (hip) and Johnson (shoulder) will play in Game 5

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are far from being healthy heading into tonight’s must-win Game 5, but they will have all of their players available with the exception of Isaiah Thomas (hip).

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown (right hip) was questionable heading into tonight’s game, but he told earlier that he was planning to give it a go tonight.

Boston head coach Brad Stevens confirmed later on that the 6-foot-7 rookie would in fact play tonight.

His presence tonight is one of the many keys to Boston’s efforts to keep their season alive.

They trail Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, with a loss tonight ending their season and with that, sending the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals for the third straight season.

Boston’s Amir Johnson (right shoulder) did not play in Game 4, but will be in uniform and available to play tonight. Stevens said the 6-foot-9 veteran was healthy enough to play in Game 4 but Stevens elected to keep him out of the game because he wanted Johnson to have more than one day to rest his shoulder before potentially playing him again.

In other injury-related news, Stevens confirmed comments made earlier in the day by Danny Ainge regarding Isaiah Thomas’ right hip injury which led to the Celtics shutting him down for the playoffs after the injury proved to be too much for him to play through at halftime of Boston’s Game 2 loss.

Speaking during 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show, Ainge said there was “a lot” of inflammation around the affected joint on Thomas’ right hip.

“It had gotten worse from the MRI’s he had before,” said Ainge who added that it would have been “irresponsible to allow him to play anymore.”

Said Stevens: “It sounds to me like the course of action right now … is let the inflammation go down a little bit.”

Ainge said earlier that because of the inflammation, it will likely be at least a couple weeks before Thomas and the Celtics will know if he will require surgery or whether another form of treatment will be needed.

Because of that uncertainty, Ainge stressed that Thomas would not return to play in this series even if it were closer.

“No. No way. He’s done (for the season),” Ainge said.