The New England Patriots shut down the Miami Dolphins 28-0 at home, and they did it without having starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich for most of the game. Justin Francis came in and filled in the hole seamlessly with the best game of his career, as the undrafted rookie finished with three sacks. However, Francis isn’t replacing Ninkovich any time soon, so the injury is a crucial one to keep an eye on heading into the playoffs.
The heavily-utilized left defensive end suffered a hip injury in the second quarter and was not able to return to the game. What makes things worse is that he needed help to walk to the locker room, and we can only hope that the injury won’t cost him any games. Of course, we don’t know just how severe the injury is, but the early signs don’t look too good.
Ninkovich is one of the best 4-3 DEs against the run in the NFL, and that makes up for his somewhat inconsistent pass rushing. But the thing about Ninko is his pass rushing ability comes in bursts, which means that he can overwhelm right tackles (especially those inferior to him) and rack up sacks. That somewhat pads his stats, but Ninkovich’s best contributions to this team go underrated by the stats even as his pass rushing is overrated by the stats.
He is one of the most versatile front seven players in the NFL, because he can play pretty much anywhere. At the end spot, he can move out into coverage and actually perform at an above-average level there due to his experience at linebacker, Ninkovich will certainly be missed if he has out for long, and we can only hope the hip injury is minor. He is one of the most dependable players on the team and a key component of the Patriots top run-stopping defense.
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