Aug 22, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) reacts after taking down Carolina Panthers quarterbackCam Newton
(1) in the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
A reason for optimism in 2014 with the Patriots’ defense revolves around the improved secondary creating more chances for quarterback pressure from defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. With a healthy Vince Wilfork and first-round draft pick Dominique Easley in the middle of the defense providing a push up the middle, the expectation is Jones and Ninkovich should have more opportunities to make plays in the offensive backfield.
Looking back at 2013, both Jones and Ninkovich each had a terrible performance against the Dolphins: Jones in the first game during week eight matched-up with the then Miami left tackle Bryant McKinnie and was shut down; Ninkovich was stoned in the second game against Miami during week fifteen going against the then Miami right tackle Tyson Clabo. Neither McKinnie nor Clabo are starting in Miami this season as the Dolphins spent on former Kansas City Chief Brandon Albert to solidify the left tackle position. Ja’Wuan James was picked in the first round (19th overall) this year by the Dolphins and the rookie is expected to be a big upgrade over Clabo at right tackle.
Both Jones and Ninkovich had a strong preseason and generated pressure well in their limited playing time. The Patriots have not faced Kansas City since 2011, so that game had veteran Andre Carter matched-up against Brandon Albert. Carter managed a sack, but Albert seemed to play well overall in the Patriots’ 34-3 win (Kansas City had Tyler Palko playing quarterback that game). A big game by Jones and/or Ninkovich generating pressure on Tannehill on Sunday would go a long way towards a Patriots’ victory.