FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Rob Ninkovich has been as consistent as a metronome for the New England Patriots the past three seasons. The defensive end has finished with eight sacks in each.

He’s eager to change the rhythm Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts and their stallion of a quarterback, Andrew Luck.

“You can’t let a guy like that just stand back there and see the whole field,” Ninkovich said.

The Patriots reached the AFC championship game for a fourth consecutive year despite a subpar outing from their defense last weekend. There was little pressure on Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was never sacked and threw for four touchdowns in a 35-31 loss.

Ninkovich knows that needs to change against Luck, who directs the NFL’s top passing offense at 306 yards per game. Ninkovich will be poring over his notebook this week, the one in which he jots down observations about opponents and tactics from each of his games, looking for an edge. He will land on the teams’ previous meeting, a 42-20 New England victory on Nov. 16, and recall what he did to record the lone Patriots sack of Luck.

“He does a good job of breaking the pocket, getting out, looking for a guy downfield and making a good throw,” Ninkovich said. “So you’re always conscious of that as a defensive lineman, to be under control, understand where he is and not to let him go where he wants to go.”


Ninkovich is undersized for his position, at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds. Luck is mammoth for his, at 6-4, 240. In a physical collision, the Patriot defenders won’t have the advantage they’re used to.

But Luck, in his third season out of Stanford, has been prone to mistakes. He led the league with 40 touchdown passes but tempered that with 16 interceptions, including one in that loss to New England. Start chasing him, make him think on the run, and history shows you can rattle him, if only briefly.

The Colts have had to rely on a patchwork offensive line at times this year but yielded only 29 sacks, a testament to Luck’s ability to escape pressure. New England recorded 40 sacks, led by Ninkovich’s eight. Fellow defensive end Chandler Jones added six in only 10 games.

“He plays like a veteran,” Jones said of Luck. “It all boils down to who plays the best. That’s what we’re going to try to do on Sunday.”

Luck wasn’t sacked and barely touched in last Sunday’s 24-13 playoff win at Denver. He praised his offensive line for its strong play of late.

“They seem to be getting closer and closer,” he said. “They’re a proud group. They want to get better every day of every week. They certainly have.”


Still, the Patriots know that stopping the Colts means manhandling Luck’s blockers and then taking their chances trying to bring the bulky quarterback to the ground.

If not, he will burn them. The Colts led the NFL with 85 plays of 20 or more yards, 78 of which were passes. Luck also had a 20-yard run against the Broncos last week.

“He’s a very big quarterback, he’s extremely strong. You’ll see a lot of guys that think they have him in the grasp and think they can get him down and then he breaks free,” said Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. “As a full defense you’re in a mindset where you’re like, ‘OK, well, we got this guy wrapped up,’ and all of a sudden he gets free and he breaks free and now the play is extended even longer. So it’s definitely something where we have to concentrate and play all the way through the whistle and finish every single bit of coverage or finish every play all the way through.”

Luck comes across as an amiable hippie, with a free-flowing beard that is widely mocked. He is known to pat defenders on the backside after they hit him, and clearly enjoys the give-and-take of competition.

Jones said he hasn’t experienced that side of Luck. Yet.

“Hopefully he’ll be doing some patting me on the back on Sunday,” Jones said.

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