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New England Patriots Links 3/02/12 - Greg Cosell: Ninkovich, Spikes Clearly Helped Defense Play Better

<em>Rob Ninkovich recovers a fumble against the Denver Broncos</em>.
Rob Ninkovich recovers a fumble against the Denver Broncos.

Christopher Price sat down with NFL Films producer Greg Cosell at the Combine to get his thoughts on Patriots linebackers Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes.

"I thought two guys who played really well down the stretch and helped their defense play better — it clearly played better — were Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes," said Cosell, who serves as the producer for ESPN’s "NFL Matchup."

"I thought he played real well, particularly down the stretch," Cosell said of Ninkovich, one of only two NFL defenders to finish the regular season with at least six sacks and two interceptions. "I think Ninkovich, he became a really versatile player. He’s not a dynamic, explosive playmaker, play after play. I don’t think he’s a guy who offenses say, ‘We better account for Rob Ninkovich.’ But I thought he played really well down the stretch."

"I’m a huge Spikes fan, for what he is. I’m not going to ask him to run with Jimmy Graham, but for what he is, I think he’s really good," Cosell said. "There aren’t many guys in the league like him who play downhill. He takes on blocks with violence. That’s a dying breed in the NFL. A passing league, a spread league, now, you have linebackers that run around blocks. He took on blocks this year, and he usually won."

Late in the season, Patriots coach Bill Belichick compared Spikes to former Giants linebacker Pepper Johnson (currently New England’s defensive line coach), a comparison Cosell wholeheartedly agreed with.

"That’s a great comparison," Cosell said. "Pepper Johnson was the unsung hero of the defense he was on. Bill is all about filling roles and doing your job. He doesn’t get caught up in the media BS. And to him, Pepper Johnson is a critical piece of a defensive puzzle. Brandon Spikes is a critical piece of their puzzle. He may never be an All-Pro, but he’s a good player for them. For what [Belichick] wants and he needs, he does his job and he does it well."

Report (ESPNBoston) K.C. Joyner (a.k.a. The Football Scientist) concludes the Patriots should be the most interested in Steelers' RFA Mike Wallace.

"That Tom Brady was able to post an 11.6 vertical yards per attempt (VYPA) mark (fifth best in the league) despite throwing 91 vertical passes to tight ends, speaks volumes for the genius of New England's creative play calling," Joyner writes. "However, it still doesn't mask the fact Brady's 10.9 stretch vertical YPA (SVYPA) ranked tied for 20th. (Note: Vertical passes are aerials thrown 11 or more yards downfield, while stretch vertical passes are thrown 20 or more yards).

"This problem calls for the addition of a wideout who can take over the Randy Moss role that helped Brady have one of the best seasons in NFL history in 2007."