Vince Wilfork proves tough to move

FOXBORO — On nearly every snap, Vince Wilfork [stats] is forced to shed a minimum of a quarter ton of blockers.

Wilfork almost always squares up against a pair of 300-pound men, and the triple teams come nearly as often as the one-on-one matchups for the defensive tackle. Point is, opposing offenses don’t want Wilfork to single-handedly blow up a play, at least not on a regular basis. The problem, though, is he finds ways to do it anyway.

“Whenever you see him get double-teamed and he splits it, you’re sitting there like, ‘Damn, two guys and they didn’t move him at all,’ ” defensive back Devin McCourty said. “That happens countless times.”

Stats have never dictated Wilfork’s value. For instance, in last season’s AFC Championship Game victory against the Ravens, he pushed both guards and the center --— 935 pounds of linemen — into Joe Flacco’s face, forcing the quarterback to scramble on their initial third-down failure.

Stack up the game tape, and those plays are a dime a dozen for Wilfork. But every double team is a victory for the Patriots [team stats]’ defensive front because it allows ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich to work with more space. That, in part, has played into the pair’s 11 combined sacks in the first eight games.
“It’s pretty hard to stop a guy that is as athletic as he is going forward with his size,” Ninkovich said. “There have been a lot of times when he has completely overpowered the people that are trying to block him. It takes two to stop him, and sometimes that doesn’t even work. He’s just a great lineman. He’s one of those guys who is able to change games.”

Wilfork expanded his game last season when he intercepted a pair of passes, and he has stretched out his play-making arsenal this season, too. In Week 4, Wilfork snuffed out the Bills’ wide receiver screen to Donald Jones and raced to his right to destroy Jones as the ball arrived, causing an incompletion. Wilfork’s recognition saved a long gain in a two-score game.

“That’s his territory,” Ninkovich warned. “They ran that middle screen, and he was able to sniff it out and clobber the guy.”

Wilfork really put his athleticism on display in the second quarter against the Rams. He barely engaged his block before diagnosing a pass to the right flat, and darted to arrive in Daryl Richardson’s face before the ball to make the tackle for a 4-yard loss.

“He makes some crazy plays,” Ninkovich said.

The uniqueness of it raises the Patriots’ eyebrows. Teams like the Ravens, Steelers and Jets call an assortment of zone blitzes where a defensive lineman will be tasked with dropping into coverage. But Wilfork’s plays have been a result of his own intuition, not the assignment.

His teammates love it, mostly due to the result but also because they know the next day’s film session will turn into Wilfork’s boasting session.

“I laugh right away,” McCourty said. “I laugh because I know as soon as he does it, the next day I’m going to hear about it, probably because I’m always the guy making fun of him, being big, I always hear about it when he does something that skill guys do. It’s pretty unique. I think it’s pretty amazing for a defensive lineman to be able to recognize different things in the pass game.”

The flip side is McCourty and Co. are waiting for Wilfork to whiff on one of those freelancing plays because they can’t wait to get on him for it. One issue: It hasn’t happened yet. They’re plenty happy with that, too.

“When I see him play out there, to me, it’s unbelievable at how dominant he is, at how he can be that size and still be so quick with lateral movement and make so many different plays all over the field,” McCourty said. “I think he’s definitely one of the most dominant players in our game.”

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