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Week 7 Patriots vs Jets: How Rob Ninkovich Batted Four Passes

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The Patriots defensive captain played a smart and effective game to put the Jets in 3rd-and-long situations.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots acquired edge defender Jabaal Sheard with the hopes of reducing the playing time for both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. It didn't take long for Sheard to shine through and initiate the Bench Ninkovich for Sheard campaign.

I was the leader of that charge. Ninkovich is putting me in my place.

After Sheard went down with an injury against the Colts, Ninkovich was thrust back into an every-snap role and he's rolled back time to look like prime Ninkovich. He carried out another exceptional day against the Jets with Sheard sidelined. In my view, Ninkovich put together his best back-to-back performance since 2013.

Not only did Ninkovich do a great job of establishing the edge integrity by forcing running back Chris Ivory inside and into the teeth of Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, he was a total menace against the Jets passing attack.

Ninkovich batted an incredible four passes and nearly intercepted a fifth pass on the goal line. How was he able to get his hands the ball?

"He is a heady player and on some of the naked [bootlegs] early, he stayed home and batted some balls down," Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick explained. "We had a quick pass early and he batted it down. Anytime there was a screen, he seemed to be there, and so he is a smart football player."

The Jets credited Ninkovich's ability to not get suckered out of position when Fitzpatrick left the pocket. For Ninkovich, it might have been a little bit easier than that.

"I think anytime the ball comes out quick, the trajectory is lower, so any time it's a quick passing game, you can get your hands on the ball," Ninkovich said after the game. "You just have to obviously read the quarterback, get your hands up and match the throwing arm.

"So coming into this week, they didn't have many sacks. They only had two on the year, so you knew that the ball was coming out quick. They wanted to have quick hidden routes, and as a front, you get your hands up, knock passes down."

That sounds simple enough. The Jets were touted for their ability to protect the quarterback from sacks, but the other side of the coin shows that Fitzpatrick's quick release can be used against him. If Fitzpatrick is so focused on getting the ball out to avoid the sack, he won't be double clutching the ball, so defenders can jump the second he starts to get into his throwing motion.

Teams were starting to do that to Tom Brady, especially on screen passes to the flat, where defenders were driving into the passing lane to try and collect a pick six. The Patriots have adjusted with more forward passes. The Jets will have to adjust before the week 16 rematch, or else Ninkovich is going to get his hands on more passes and Fitzpatrick won't be as lucky with potential interceptions.

"I should've caught a couple of them," Ninkovich noted. "Jeez."