Reading the Defense: Rob Ninkovich filling a void

For the past few weeks, all the talk around the New England Patriots defense has been about their losses. Vince Wilfork is out for the season. Jerod Mayo is also done for the year. Steve Gregory and Alfonzo Dennard sat out last week's game against the Panthers. Without a doubt, the Pats defense has suffered quite a few bumps and bruises this year.

What should probably get more attention is the play of the guys who are there. Everyone notices the job Aqib Talib has done in the secondary this season. What hasn't gotten quite as much play is the work of Rob Ninkovich.

The veteran is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career and while he isn't expected to directly make up for the loss of Wilfork, his efforts have certainly lessened the blow. Ninkovich won't be a big sack guy -- he has a career-high of eight -- but does plenty of other things well. Among defensive ends in a 4-3 scheme, Pro Football Focus lists Ninkovich as their fourth-best player.

He's picked things up in his past three games. During that stretch, Ninkovich has logged four of his six sacks and is averaging nine fantasy points per contest. On paper, this wouldn't seem to be a matchup that favors him continuing his sack streak. The Broncos offensive line has allowed just 13 QB takedowns this season -- second-fewest behind the Detroit Lions.

However, the former Purdue Boilermaker has been integral in helping the Patriots stop the run this season. Sure, it's not what the Broncos do best (or do frequently), but it's not uncommon to see Knowshon Moreno and company running toward the edges. If Denver chooses that course of action Sunday night in Foxboro, Ninkovich could be there to clean up once again.

Williams diversifying on defense

Back in 2008, Tramon Williams looked to be on the edge of superstardom. He was taking over as a part-time starter for the aging Al Harris and snagged five interceptions. Two seasons later, he was a full-time starter and pulled six picks as the starter playing across from Charles Woodson.

Williams has struggled to duplicate those numbers over the past couple of seasons, but things have been much more positive over the past few weeks. The veteran corner has scored 11-plus fantasy points in each of his past two games. Yeet he's done it in a couple of different ways.

Last week, Williams pulled his first interception of the season. The week before he did it by logging a half-sack. That last number is of more interest when you realize that the former Lousiana Tech Bulldog has 2.5 sacks -- far surpassing his career-high in QB sacks. He also has a chance to match a career-high in tackles.

This could be a week for Wiliams to make hay. The Packers face the Minnesota Vikings and quarterback Christian Ponder who has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (6). If ever there was a prime opportunity for Williams to get his hands on another football, this could be it. If not ... there's always tackling Adrian Peterson.

Four downs

» The aforementioned Alfonzo Dennard is expected to miss New England's Week 12 matchup against the Broncos after surgery to repair his meniscus. That could leave the Patriots short-handed against the Broncos' high-powered passing game. Some of the extra pressure could fall on Steve Gregory, who returned to practice, but if you're searching for IDP options, you'd be best served to look elsewhere.

» Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson has a sprained MCL and is being considered week-to-week. Johnson leads the Panthers in sacks and has been a big part of the defensive front's success this season. This week's matchup was particularly favorable against a Dolphins offensive line that has allowed a league-high 41 sacks this season.

» Cowboys star linebacker Sean Lee has a pulled hamstring that was expected to keep him out of action for 3-4 weeks. But owner Jerry Jones says he expects Lee to return sooner. With Lee's playmaking skills, that would be fantastic news for Cowboys fans and fantasy owners. But we prefer to let the doctors make any official diagnosis. As soon as Lee is back, stick him back in your lineup.

» The Saints will be without Jabari Greer for the remainder of the season after the cornerback suffered a torn ACL in last week's win over the San Francisco 49ers. Statistically, Greer wasn't the most productive member of the Saints secondary, but his absence will leave a void. Corey White is expected to be the next man up for New Orleans.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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