BY DAN BEGNOCHE
After finishing next-to-last in 2011 in yards allowed, the New England Patriots made some adjustments in the offseason to stop the bleeding on the defensive side of the ball. One thing that didn't need tweaking, however, is their ability to get the ball back into Tom Brady's hands.
The Pats have lead the AFC the past two years in turnover differential, and with a rating of +11 thus far, St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford knows better than to test their ability in handing the ball back to their electric offense.
“When you give them extra possessions or short fields, you’re really putting yourself behind the eight ball,” Bradford told reporters via conference call on Wednesday. “I think we’re very aware of their ability to get the ball out, both [by] causing fumbles and interceptions. We have to do a really good job of taking care of the football and not giving their offense anything extra this week.”
New England's defense has recorded seven interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles this year. Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich have been at the forefront of that effort, combining for seven fumbles and with eight sacks.
“The more you watch them, I think the more impressive both of them become," Bradford said. "Especially the last couple weeks, I think they’ve kind of found their groove. They do a great job of never going around the quarterback, never taking themselves out of the rush. They’re always right there around you. So there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to take care of the edges this week or they'll cause turnovers just like they did last week.”
Ninkovich broke free on an outside pass rush against the Jets last Sunday, stripping the ball from quarterback Mark Sanchez and sealing the overtime victory with the recovery. Rams coach Jeff Fisher mirrored Bradford's comments about the defensive front on Wednesday, saying their skill, coupled with New England coach Bill Belichick's weekly adjustments, can make for a preparation nightmare.
“They’re very talented," he said. "They’re big, strong, they’re downhill; it’s a downhill front seven. They have a young secondary that looks like it’s going to be good.”
The Pats' secondary has already started to look good, with third-year corner Devin McCourty and rookie safety Tavon Wilson each tallying two interceptions so far. Bradford said the group disguises things well despite their numbers against the pass.
“McCourty has obviously got great ball skills," Bradford said. "You’ve got to be aware of where he is. I think they are a really solid group in that back end. You’ve really got to be able to play with your eyes when you play against them and see the rotation, see what they're doing after the snap.”
St. Louis's offense will certainly have its work cut out for it in England on Monday, as the team has struggled to accumulate yards this season, particularly in the air. The Rams are 24th in passing yards per game (209) and 28th in total yards per game (315)
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