Considering how beat up the Patriots have been on the defensive side of the football all year, two of their key players are actually at the top of the charts in the league in playing time this season.
An interesting note during this morning's links was an article from the Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young, who pointed out the fact that both Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich finished the season having played more snaps than any other NFL defensive lineman, whether it be defensive end or tackle. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Jones finished the season having played a league high 1141 snaps at his position, while Ninkovich was right behind him with 1114 snaps.
The site also reveals that Ninkovich finished fourth in quarterback hurries this season for 4-3 defensive ends with 46, while Jones finished tied for third with 13-sacks in that same category.
It's an impressive sophomore season for the former star out of Syracuse who battled an ankle injury last season, which seemed to hamper him as his production dropped off from there. He had six sacks by the end of October, but had none in his next two games before getting hurt during their blowout win over Indianapolis. He was then inactive for his next two games but didn't seem like the same player when he returned and didn't muster another sack for the rest of the season. Fortunately he's come back and put together a terrific follow-up year that has him hopefully poised for a big postseason.
Jones told the Globe that he focused on strengthening his lower body during the offseason, and clearly the effort has paid dividends given the fact he's successfully made it through the year without any issues. He also told reporters that he could play better in the running game, and that's one of his focuses heading into the playoffs.
"My biggest thing is I'm going to work on what I need to work on, as far as my strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I can play better in the running game, that's what I'm going to try to help myself and get better," said Jones. "What I'm going to be doing is just a lot of self scouting. I'm going to be going over a lot of film, going back to game one. I'm going to go over a lot of film and try to figure out, 'What can I do to get better?' I'm just trying to get better so I can be more of an elite player going into the postseason."
Meanwhile Ninkovich, once again, has been a big part of the defense, and has been a key contributor rushing the quarterback. His 46 hurries has him up there among the league leaders, including the likes of Detroit's Ndamukong Suh (54) and Buccaneers standout Gerald McCoy (55).
Both will likely be critical components to the Patriots' postseason run, and after losing starters in Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, and Tommy Kelly defensively, fortunately Jones and Ninkovich have helped put New England in a good position to make a strong playoff push when they return to the field one week from Saturday.