Ninkovich has continued to prove he's worth the money. He is among the team leaders in tackles and applies consistent pressure against the pass and run this season. He is a reliable three-down player with 14.5 sacks the last two seasons.
The following two plays from the Jets game a few weeks ago shows why the Patriots opened Bob Kraft's wallet for the 29-year-old veteran.
The Jets are in shotgun formation, facing a third and 11. Ninkovich has his hand in the ground with Vince Wilfork to his right and Dont'a Hightower showing blitz on his left.
Instead of taking his usual approach of pass rushing straight up-field, Ninkovich moves laterally to his right, behind Wilfork, who is engaged with the Jets' left guard and tackle.
This is what's known as a "stunt," and the idea is for two linemen to swap gaps in the hopes the offensive lineman get confused by the maneuver and fail to maintain their gap discipline. Specifically in this case, Ninkovich wants the right guard, Willie Colon, to follow the direction Wilfork is taking him, thus leaving the gap between him and the center unprotected.
You can see here that the stunt has been effective and Ninkovich has a clear path into the backfield. We can also see the Jets are actually running the ball up the middle, not passing, which was likely not anticipated given the down and distance. In fact, Colon likely did not have a gap assignment, the play probably called for a double team on Wilfork, possibly followed by one of the lineman peeling off the block on Wilfork to pick up Ninkovich somewhere. Neither the Jets nor the Patriots have done what the other expected, but by a combination of excellent execution and some luck, Ninkovich is about ready to blow this play up.
Colon realizes that Ninkovich is shooting up the guard/center gap, and tries to put a hand on him, but it's not enough. Ninkovich takes down Blilal Powell for a two yard loss, and the Jets punt on the next play.
The Jets are running out of the shotgun. Ninkovich is not stunting this time and is taking his usual angle up field. The Jets' right tackle, Austin Howard, has not sought to take on Ninkovich, instead taking an angle to the defense's right. This is consistent with what the rest of the Jets offensive line is doing.
Often times, when a defensive lineman is left completely unblocked at the outset of a play, it means that he is getting "kicked out." That means there's another blocker pulling laterally behind the offensive line to hit the unblocked lineman from the side. As you can see, Winslow has turned to his right in Ninkovich's direction.
There's just one problem. Winslow is way too far away to reach Ninkovich in time. Here you can see Winslow right behind Chris Ivory. He's had to jump out of Ivory's way because the two of them were going to collide. This is a clear sign that the timing of the play was off as the pulling blocker should be out of the way by the time the ball carrier gets to this spot.
It's also worth noting that the Jets right tackle (#77), who initially began this play by ignoring Ninkovich and moving to the defense's right, has changed direction and is now facing to the left to block Mayo.
Ninkovich is in on the tackle and causes a fumble. Ninkovich took advantage of some disfunction on the part of the Jets, but it was still a good example of disciplined play and solid tackling.
As to what the Jets were trying to do, the evidence suggests that they were attempting to run a counter. Here is my attempt at drawing it up.
The blue lines show the movement of the offensive lineman to the defense's right. The green line is the path of the pulling blocker whose job it is to kick out the unblocked lineman. The red line reflects the path of the ball carrier, who is supposed to take a step to the direction of the line flow and then changes direction to the opposite way. This is called the "counter step" and it's meant to trick the defense into over-pursuing the wrong way.
It's unclear whose fault it was for Winslow not to get to his blocking assignment in time to take out Ninkovich, but Ivory's failure to take that counter step caused the near collision with Winslow.
Michael Reardon is a Fantasy Football writer and Patriots Insider columnist who has followed the New England Patriots for years. An amateur football player himself, Michael uses his knowledge and experience to illustrate the finer points of the game. You can follow him on twitter @mjreardon
[Disclaimer: Images courtesy screen shots of game replay and are copyright of their respective owners including (but not limited to) the NFL, Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots. Images used for illustration purposes only.]