FOXBORO — Not only can a very good secondary limit what opposing quarterbacks can do against a defense — it also can help the other members of the defense get after the quarterback.
The Patriots finished with three sacks in their 30-7 win over the Panthers, all in the first quarter against starting quarterback Cam Newton — Chandler Jones had two and Rob Ninkovich had the other.
“The first play of the game was definitely a coverage sack,” Ninkovich said. “I was just trying to mirror the quarterback and make sure he didn’t get out of the pocket. I was just collapsing and collapsing and I was able to get to [the quarterback]. That goes to the secondary.”
The Patriots secondary now has arguably the best cornerback in the game in Darrelle Revis, as well as Pro-Bowl safety Devin McCourty to go along with rising-star corners Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan — as well as the former member of the Seahawks Legion of Boom secondary, cornerback Brandon Browner. (Although it should be noted, he is suspended for the first four games of the season and didn’t play until the fourth quarter Friday night).
All those players stepped onto the field together for the first time this preseason and were able to give the entire defense some added energy and boost to their games.
“[We] had a tremendous time. Football is fun,” Jones said. “We’re out there in the preseason we get a chance to go against a different team. Whether it is in practice, going against the Redskins or the Eagles. We got an opportunity to go out in our third preseason game and execute and we went out and did a good job.”
The defense played very well, with the starters playing a little over a half, holding the Carolina offense — which made the postseason last year — to just 94 total yards in the first half.
“It’s just working hard throughout camp, and all week, trying to prepare and knowing that we were going against a good team and a good quarterback that was able to scramble around and get out of the pocket,” Ninkovich said. “It was a good game all around.”
Having a strong secondary has allowed the Patriots to go with a 3-4 defensive alignment — which they have shown a lot over the course of the summer — and in turn has given Jones and Ninkovich, who line up on the outside, a better chance of getting to quarterback.
“I think as a defense you are always doing multiple things,” said Ninkovich. “Whatever we are in, a end of the line players like we are, our job is to stop the run at the edge and get some pressure on the quarterback. Whatever it is, we are going to play it to the best of our ability and try to help the team out.”
Jones finished last season with 11 1/2 sacks after totaling six in his rookie season, while Ninkovich has finished with eight in each of the last two seasons. In the 3-4 set — with the strong secondary behind them — both players could be looking at similar, if not better numbers.
With the third preseason game as the so called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, it went almost as well as they could have hoped for — giving them plenty of reasons to be excited for the upcoming season.
“It felt very good to be out there with my teammates,” Jones said. “Coach [Bill Belichick] put us in great positions, we got some plays to execute and out-executed [the Panthers].”