Rice on the menu for Patriots defense

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Rice on the menu for Patriots defense

FOXBORO - Ray Rice led the NFL in 2011 in yards from scrimmage with 2,068 (1,364 on the ground). He carried the ball 291 times and caught it 76. So of the 5,419 yards Baltimore gained, he was responsible for 38 percent of them.

So, yeah, the Patriots want to keep tabs on Rice Sunday in the AFC Championship, New England's sixth appearance in that game in Bill Belichick's 12 seasons in New England.

On the first play from scrimmage in the 2009 playoffs against the Patriots, Rice ran virtually untouched for 83 yards and touchdown through the heart of the Patriots defense.

That play is still on their minds.

"2009, yeah it was unfortunate," Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich said Monday. "We didnt start that game off the way we wanted to on defense. A team that potent and tough, you cant give up a big run for a touchdown to start the game off like that. Obviously, thats something that we really need to focus on, is not letting up any big plays like that, especially to start the game off. The momentum they gained from that obviously just snowballed for the rest of the game and they were able to go out there and play well."

The next 59:45 of that game wasn't much fun for the Patriots, either, as they lost 33-14. So overpowering was the Ravens rushing attack that quarterback Joe Flacco only threw 10 times.

Finding Rice is sometimes half the battle. At 5-foot-8, he can duck behind linemen and runs like a field mouse. Except he's a strong field mouse and he runs through arm tackles.

"Hes a little bit different because hes a smaller, compact guy real strong," Ninkovich explained. "Kind of like a Maurice Jones-Drew guy: real strong at hitting the hole and is real fast, but also can catch the ball out of the backfield and make some plays in the passing game. Hes a target for them that really makes a lot of plays for them so you have to make sure that you account for him on the field at all times."

Rice was kept in check this past Sunday by the formidable Houston Texans defense. He ran for 60 yards on 21 carries.

The Patriots defense is not as stout as Houston's. And even if it were, it wouldn't lessen their concerns about him. "Hes different because hes just very explosive," said Ninkovich. "If you give him just a little bit, he can turn that into a real big play. You have to make sure you keep all the holes tight so he doesnt have something just to hit and go. Hes a challenge for us."

A challenge that, if the Patriots are able to limit, will go a long way toward putting them in the Super Bowl.

Ramirez bothered by right shoulder more than last year

Ramirez bothered by right shoulder more than last year

BOSTON — Hanley Ramirez on Wednesday afternoon acknowledged his shoulders are bothering him more this year than last year.

In specific, it’s the right (throwing) shoulder that’s bothersome, he said to CSNNE, noting it just doesn’t move as he wants it to — rotating his arm as he spoke. Asked how that happened, how it worsened, he said it was in spring training that he thinks he pushed it too hard.

On the positive side, Ramirez said his shoulders are improving.

"Honestly, yeah, it's feeling better now," Ramirez told a group of reporters. "It's started feeling better now than early in the year. I can use the top hand and drop a little bit the head of the bat. I was losing that. I was talking to [hitting coaches Chili Davis and Victor Rodriguez] about that. I've got to be able to use that top hand. Like Jim Rice."

Ramirez, who seems to always want to be playful in his interactions with the media, appeared surprised to learn that he was not hitting lefties well so far this year. He’s 5-for-35 against them.

Ramirez was out the lineup for a third straight game Wednesday, but took batting practice on the field and also took grounders at first base. As batting practice ended, he spoke to a group of reporters coming off the field.

"What am I hitting against lefties right now?” Ramirez asked in a response to a question about how he was feeling vs. southpaws.

It was low, he was told. He waited while a reporter used his phone to look up the specifics for him.

“Is it really? So it’s not me. I've got to get going because I crush lefties. It can't happen,” Ramirez said in the group. "You're kidding me. It took you long enough to tell me that. I didn't know that for real. So OK, after this conversation, let's see what's going to happen now. I'll say it. Yeah. Bring it. OK? I didn't know, I swear. Interesting. Thank you.”

Red Sox manager John Farrell wasn’t sure if Ramirez’s struggles vs. lefties was related to his shoulders. 

“Because if there’s the need or the tendency for Hanley to start his swing early because he might not feel as loose or reactive, as he might otherwise, if a left-hander’s going to sink the ball away from him or keep the ball on the outside of the plate and that early commitment might cause you to pull off some pitches, that’s one possibility,” Farrell said. “But I can’t say that’s the absolute sole reason.”

The Sox still believe Ramirez is healthy enough to contribute well.

“Without being in his body, and knowing what he’s feeling, you know, if you watch the number of hours he puts in for the shoulder maintenance, that’s real,” Farrell said. “All we can evaluate is his feedback and how he swings the bat with either the plate coverage or the aggressiveness and the ability to impact the baseball. And there has been stretches of that. I think he would be the first to admit, would like for it to be more consistent.”

Farrell was asked a bunch of questions about Ramirez on Wednesday afternoon in the usual pre-game press conference, including whether he’s difficult to manage. If that’s the case — and it sure seems so —  Farrell did not let on.

"With individuals you take the added time needed to sit down and talk things through and get a sense of where each individual player is," Farrell said. "I wouldn’t say Hanley is different than other guys in that clubhouse."

Ramirez did very well in the second half last year and was optimistic.

“It's coming along,” he said. “I think second half's coming and I'm ready for that. ... Just one click and you go from there. Like I said, I'm not going to stop working. I'm going to get hot.”