Brady expects Finnegan-Welker battle


Brady expects Finnegan-Welker battle

FOXBORO - Annoying as a gnat, nasty as a hornet, Cortland Finnegan is the kind of opponent every wide receiver detests.
An agitator without peer, the Rams cornerback is one of the NFL's most effective players when it comes to burrowing under a wideout's skin.
Despite the reputation which precedes Finnegan, Tom Brady -- who plays with a bit of an edge himself -- appreciates Finnegan's game.
"He competes his butt off and he's smart, catches the ball well," said Brady. "He's a seventh-round pick, so you just are always fighting for your life out there. Even though he's had a lot of success, you see he wants to continue to get better and improve and he's still a young player."
The 28-year-old Finnegan was a career-long Tennessee Titan before signing with the Rams to rejoin his old Titans coach Jeff Fisher. Finnegan has already helped the Rams by injecting his personality into their defense.
In Week 2 against Washington, Finnegan goaded Redskins receiver Josh Morgan into a personal foul penalty at the end of the game when Morgan whipped a ball at Finnegan. The penalty turned a 47-yard field goal attempt to tie into a 62-yarder. It missed and the Titans won.
The Rams use Finnegan in a variety of spots, said Brady.
"I think wherever they want him to assert himself in the coverage in order to have the most opportunities to make plays, thats where he's going to be," said Brady. "In regular defense, their base defense, he's outside. They dont match a ton (meaning Finnegan on a specific receiver), although they do flip sides on occasion, but for the most part against us hell probably be inside all day."
Which means Finnegan will be lined up against an equally hard-nosed (though less vilified) player in Wes Welker.
"I have a lot of respect for (Finnegan)," said Brady. "He plays really hard. Wes Welker is very much the same way. Wes plays his butt off too, so its kind of our strength against one of their strengths."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks


WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace


Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”