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Ninkovich: Patriots' defense needs better starts

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Posted Dec. 22, 2011 @ 7:16 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

Outside the ridiculous numbers that QB Tom Brady and TE Rob Gronkowski are putting up on offense, there's only one set of off-the-charts numbers that is discussed when it comes to the Patriots — their defense.

New England's defense remains last in the league overall and against the pass, and their run defense has taken a big hit the last two weeks. The Patriots allowed 170 rushing yards to Washington and 252 to the Broncos.

Against Denver, the Patriots were able to make in-game changes, locked down on the defensive side of the ball and created turnovers.

In the final two games of the regular season and heading into the playoffs, getting off to better starts as to not put so much pressure on Brady early on will be a big focus of the defense.

"You can't let a team start off like they have in the last couple weeks. We have got to start faster and then finish out games better," Patriots OLB Rob Ninkovich told PFW.

Ninkovich has been one of the few constants on the Patriots' defense this season, starting all 14 games. LBs Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher and Jerod Mayo have all missed time with injuries, thrusting special-teamer Tracy White and WR Julian Edelman into roles in the linebacking corps.

"That's a great thing about how Bill (Belichick) makes this team. He builds the team around versatile guys that can do more than just one thing," Ninkovich said. "Everybody who's on that field can do more than just one thing. There are multiple roles and positions that you can play on any given week."

Ninkovich has been versatile himself, playing both defensive end and outside linebacker this season with the defense switching between the 3-4 and 4-3. From both spots, Ninkovich is getting after the quarterback. He has 5½ sacks and 10 QB hits.

The Patriots surprised some by not addressing the pass rush in the draft. This season, it got a big boost from DE Andre Carter (10 sacks), though Carter suffered a season-ending injury in Week 15. His backup, Mark Anderson, has nine. Ninkovich said that the team's goal is to get good pressure on the quarterback to keep him out of a rhythm.

"I think if you can get the quarterback uncomfortable or out of the pocket, that's as good as a sack," he said. "This year, I think we've actually had a pretty good pass rush."

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