Freeman isn't off to the best start, completing just 45.3 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He's not much of a threat to run the ball, either, something New England had to contend with when facing Manuel and Smith.
"As a D-line, you just try and get the pressure on him and get him thinking," Ninkovich said. "Just getting pressure on him, having him make quick decisions, that's what you want to do to get after him."
They've certainly wreaked havoc on opposing quarterbacks so far. In fact, New England's defense surprisingly has helped overcome a shaky start by Tom Brady and the offense.
Usually, it's the other way around.
Trailing by four points in the fourth quarter of the opener at Buffalo, the Patriots forced three punts and recovered a late fumble to help seal the win. Four days later, with Brady and a slew of rookie receivers struggling to connect, the defense recorded four sacks of Smith and intercepted him three times in the fourth quarter to end the upset bid.
"I think everyone knows we're a couple of plays away from losing games and they were a couple of plays away from winning games," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "So you really can't always take a team just from the record."
And as much as the Patriots seem to understand what Freeman is capable of doing, the benefits extend to both teams.
"Having those preseason practices and the game, you can kind of get a sense of personnel, strengths, weaknesses. And they also have the same thing, too," Ninkovich said. "It was cool to have practices against them, but it is preseason and it's not like they're throwing everything at us and we're throwing everything at them.
"This is a regular season game and this is where it counts."
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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