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."

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