Taking a look at what the Patriots have done while rushing the passer so far this season, it’s hard not to be excited about what the future may hold for this football team.

Getting to the quarterback has been a problem in years past, but after some personnel shuffling and new additions, the Patriots are suddenly finding themselves with a pretty potent group of players who have done a great job harassing opposing quarterbacks so far this season.


Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots defense is making life difficult on opposing quarterbacks this season. (USA TODAY Images)

Through eight weeks, they’ve hit opposing quarterbacks 51 times, with Chandler Jones currently accounting for 13 of them.  Here’s a breakdown of who accounts for New England’s overall total:

QB Hits

Dont’a Hightower – 3
Rob Ninkovich – 9
Jerod Mayo – 2 (on IR)
Tommy Kelly – 6
Chandler Jones – 13
Joe Vellano – 2
Vince Wilfork – 1 (on IR)
Michael Buchanan – 5
Jake Bequette – 1
Chris Jones  - 6
Logan Ryan – 1
Dane Fletcher – 1
Steve Gregory – 1

They had 9 hits during Sunday’s win over Miami, which tied a season high after the Patriots also finished with the same total back in week two.  However, the six sacks they had last weekend was a season high, eclipsing the previous high of four, which they had in weeks 2, 5, and 7. They have 24 total so far this season, putting them among the NFL leaders as they’re currently tied for eighth overall in the league

Getting to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is something they should be able to do this weekend.  Roethlisberger has been sacked 26 times so far this season, the fourth highest total in the NFL.

However, Bill Belichick acknowledged on Wednesday that Roethlisberger is one of the bigger and more physical quarterbacks they’ve taken on so far this season, noting he’s a little tougher to bring down.

“There have been a bunch of times where guys have gotten a clean shot on him and it’s almost like he looks out there and knows that they can’t bring him down or at least bring him down right away and he just stiff arms them or shrugs them off and stands out there and throws,” said Belichick.  ”But I think the emphasis of it is knowing that this guy is a very difficult guy to tackle. He doesn’t really run away from people very often, he just runs through them or finds enough time for the receivers to get open. The receivers are very good at that too. ”

It should definitely be a good match-up, as the Patriots are trying to improve to 7-2 heading into their bye week. But at the half way mark their defense has suddenly become fairly exciting to watch. Even more impressive is the fact even despite their injuries, they seem to be getting better getting after the quarterback as the season has gone on. Considering their performance last weekend against Miami, it should be interesting to see how they build on that when they take on the Steelers on Sunday.

NOW APPEARING AS BEN ROETHLISBERGER – NATE SOLDER:

Interesting comments from head coach Bill Belichick on Wednesday, who told reporters that when it comes to who will replicate Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the scout team in practice, left tackle Nate Solder is the guy who may play that role this week.  Solder, who is 6-8, 320lbs, is someone Belichick feels is similar to do Roethlisberger’s size, strength, and how athletic he is, all attributes that happen to apply to the Steelers quarterback.

“Let [Nate] Solder take some plays back there at quarterback, let him be the scout team quarterback for a few plays,” said Belichick.  ”That’s what it’s like.  You see guys hanging all over him, hanging on his legs, hanging on his waist, and he stiff-arms them and still throws the ball 40, 50 yards downfield.

“He can throw without his legs. You can be draped on his legs and he doesn’t need to step and throw. He has the arm strength to let it go more than half the length of the field. ”

GRONKOWKSI LIMITED WEDNESDAY: 

Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was limited in practice on Wednesday, which has been the case for the most part in recent weeks with the exception of the fact the word “hamstring” has been added to go along with the “back” and “hamstring” designations that were given as reasons.  That will be something to monitor over the next few days, as New England could certainly use him with a tough Steelers’ defense coming in.

HOYER TAKING BRADY’S LEAD ON HIS INJURY:

After tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament back on October 3rd, Cleveland quarterback and former Patriot Brian Hoyer noted what his former teammate, Tom Brady, did back in 2008.  While Hoyer wasn’t with New England that season, the fact that Brady wasn’t seen or heard from again during his recovery obviously helped prevent any distractions.  As a result Hoyer spoke with the media for the first time, and the last, he said, until next season.

He held the session primarily to thank everyone for the support.

“I don’t feel IR (injured reserve) guys should be talking to the media,” Hoyer said via ESPN Cleveland. “But I wanted to get that message out there – that I’m doing great. I want to thank everyone for their support – the fans, the whole city. Obviously it was an awesome 2-3 weeks for me. I look forward to getting back.

“The support from the whole organization, from the top down, from the fans and the city as well … it really means a lot. It’s kept my spirits up during a difficult time. Every day I’m getting better.”

ON TO THIS MORNING’S LINKS:

BOSTON GLOBE:

Offense ready to face Steelers safety Troy Polamalu – Michael Whitmer - Whitmer files his notebook this morning and writes that Polamalu is an instinctive player, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is obviously aware of how big of a playmaker he can be.

Sopoaga calls trade to Patriots ‘dream come true’ – Shalise Manza Young – Young has comments from newly acquired Isaac Sopoaga, who sounds very happy to be a Patriot.

Bill Belichick calls Isaac Sopoaga a ‘strong guy, physical guy’ – Zuri Berry – Berry also has comments from head coach Bill Belichick, who had some good things to say about Sopoaga on Wednesday.

BOSTON HERALD:

Rob Gronkowski’s still catching up – Jeff Howe – Howe files his notebook this morning, which leads off with notes on Gronkowski, but also talks about the reasons behind the lion costume Tom Brady recently was pictured wearing, along with the fact neither Armond Armstead and Mark Harrison have not begun practicing yet.

Devin McCourty a playmaker - Karen Guregian – Guregian has an article on McCourty, who she writes may not be the hard-hitting guy that Rodney Harrison or Lawyer Milloy were, but he’s still making an impact.

‘D’ looks front, center – Jeff Howe – Howe has a good read on the defense, noting that with the addition of Sopoaga and the return of Tommy Kelly, the defensive tackle position no longer seems as much of a burden.

ESPN BOSTON:

Some promising signs for Patriots – Mike Reiss – Reiss has a great read this morning on the fact the Patriots are starting to get healthy as they get ready to make their stretch run.

Polamalu remains big focus for Patriots – Field Yates – Yates has an article on the Steelers’ defense, which no longer has the likes of James Harrison (now in Cincinnati) or James Farrior (retired), but still has Troy Polamalu and Yates has quotes from several Patriots players who talked about the Steelers’ safety Wednesday.

WEEI.COM:

Safety first: Could Devin McCourty become a Pro Bowler at two Positions? – Christopher Price – Price has an article on Devin McCourty, and wonders after making the Pro Bowl in 2010 as a rookie corner, whether or not he could earn the same honors at safety this season.

Tom Brady: Time is coming for Patriots to get some separation from rest of field – Christopher Price – Price has an article on Brady, who talked yesterday about the fact that this time of the year is when teams begin to separate themselves.

NESN:

Patriots Rookie Mid-Season Reset: Ryan Allen Says He Can’t Get Complacent in NFL - Doug Kyed – Kyed has a good read this morning on Ryan Allen, who after beating out Zoltan Mesko back in training camp is off to a good start and it’s a great Q&A with the rookie.

Isaac Sopoaga Could Take Snaps From Rookies, Adding Flexibility to Defense and Other Patriots Thoughts – Doug Kyed – Kyed has a good read this morning on the defensive line, and also shows how the team may look personnel-wise in different alignments defensively after the addition of Sopoaga.

WORCESTER TELEGRAM:

Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski results mixed – Rich Garven – Garven has an article on the performances of Rob Gronkowski over his first two games back in action, with Gronkowski admitting he and Brady have been “a little inconsistent” thus far.

Patriots trade for run-clogger in Isaac Sopoaga - Rich Garven – Garven has notes from Sopoaga on Wednesday, with Sopoaga saying he was surprised, but that he’s excited to be here.

ATTLEBORO SUN CHRONICLE:

Even with Gronkowski, offense still sputtering – Mark Farinella – Farinella writes that considering the media vigil that was held weekly around Gronkowksi’s locker, it’s gone from a lot of anticipation to questions of why he and the offense continue to be inconsistent.

Q&A with Isaac Sopoaga – The newspaper has a transcription of the interview session on Wednesday with the Patriots newly acquired defensive tackle.

ENTERPRISE NEWS:

Solid as steel? Patriots’ next opponent has been anything but – Glen Farley – Farley has an article on the Steelers this morning, and writes that right now Pittsburgh is “putting the terrible in the ‘Terrible Towel’”.

PATRIOTS NOTEBOOK: Belichick says Sopoaga will provide a physical presence in Pats’ defensive line – Glen Farley – Farley files his notebook this morning, which leads off with discussion of Sopoaga’s potential effect on the defense, along with injury notes from practice yesterday.