Patriots

Belichick, Pats prepare for Tebow

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Belichick, Pats prepare for Tebow

Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow possesses a unique set of skills, and the Patriots know they'll have to prepare accordingly.

Bill Belichick said on Tuesday that the Patriots will consider using a scout team quarterback in practice this week who can simulate Tebow's style.

"That's something we definitely have to talk about," Belichick said. "The most important thing for our defense is to get a good look at as close to what the actual plays are going to look like as we can replicate them. However we do that, whichever players we use to try to get that look -- we'll definitely talk about that and try to do it in the way that gives the defense the best look at it."

Belichick did not say who will be playing Tebow in practice, but there will be no perfect match. Tebow is the rare quarterback who runs with power. At times, he'll initiate contact and fight for yards while other signal-callers may slide before they can be touched. And he's just one part of Denver's league-leading rushing attack. Willis McGahee, a nine-year NFL vet, has 920 yards rushing. Tebow has amassed 517 yards on the ground in 94 attempts -- good enough for a 5.5 yards per carry average.

The Patriots know they'll have to focus on stopping Denver's ground game, no matter who carries the ball.

"They have a lot of confidence in it," Belichick said. "They call them, they don't get discouraged with it, they hang with it. They try to get it worked out if a play is not going well. They hit you on a lot of different points of attack, different scheme runs. Of course the quarterback has put up quite a few yards himself. Also their option plays, the option, dive option program, that type of thing. There's a lot of different ways they get that rushing yardage in bursts. They really test your defense all the way across the board from the pass rush contain the quarterback standpoint, to playing the normal run-block type of plays to their kind of specialty plays, element of Wildcat, quarterback scrambling, things like that. They get you on a lot of different levels."

If Tebow's running, it adds a whole new element to Denver's offense. Belichick put the Tebow advantage in plain terms: When Tebow runs the ball, the Broncos essentially gain a player on offense.

"Offensively it gives you an extra blocker somewhere or it takes a defender out depending on what formation you use," Belichick said. "It really puts everybody in play, whereas on a normal running play, the quarterback hands the ball off to somebody else and acts out of the play at the point he hands it off. The quarterback, in an offense that runs the ball, he has the whole other 10 people to block for him or to force the defense to catch or cover him in some way which drags a defender out of it. It's like gaining an extra player schematically."

Before the 2010 NFL Draft, it appeared as though the Patriots might be interested in selecting Tebow. Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said the Patriots always thought of the former Florida Gator as a quarterback, not a running back, full back or tight end. Tebow was viewed as a project coming out of Florida, but the Patriots were particularly struck by Tebow's intelligence and work ethic.

"I think any meeting you have with a draft prospect, you're just trying to get as much information as you possibly you can," Caserio said. "You look at the body of the work on the field, you look at their production, then spend some time with them off the field, just go through and talk through some different things, football related. Smart guy, works hard, was a productive player in Florida. I'd say it was a lot like most of the meetings that we have with a lot of the players when they come out."

Belichick was equally impressed by Tebow in the Pats' day-long meeting with him at Foxborough.

"He's an impressive young man," Belichick said. "He had great success in college. I think all his attributes are pretty well documented. He's a strong guy, smart, works hard, a great leader, great football character."

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

Giardi: After getting schooled, Butler's got to be better

When the Patriots signed Stephon Gilmore in the offseason and then managed to keep Malcolm Butler around, the consensus was not only might this be the best 1-2 punch at cornerback the team has ever had, but maybe, just maybe, it was the best duo in the NFL this season. 

Newsflash: it hasn’t been. Not even close. 

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The latest example comes from Sunday night in Denver. Gilmore returned from a three-game absence (concussion) to play well against Demaryius Thomas in that 41-16 win. The same can’t be said of Butler. He spent much of his day playing man-to-man versus Emmanuel Sanders and struggled mightily.

Butler’s issues started on the very first play. He got lost along the sidelines and surrendered a 31-yard catch. Butler initially had Sanders blanketed. The two were lined up outside the numbers along the left sideline. Based on the formation, and the alignment of safety Devin McCourty, it was pretty clear Butler was alone on an island. Sanders initially drove inside before straightening out his route. Then he cut sharply, working speedily to the flat. Butler had a good beat on the play but unwisely peeked into the backfield. That’s when Sanders turned up and found nothing but green grass.

“I would just say I’d just tip my hat to him,” said Butler. “It was a great route. He steered me in. Then he went up then went out then went back up so I thought that was it. It was a little more than I expected. You gotta learn from it and play it better next time.”

On the same drive, he was beaten again by Sanders, this time for 13 yards. The Pats defense tightened up and held Denver to a field goal but a pattern had already been established between the Patriots' 27-year-old cornerback and Sanders.

The next big play Butler coughed up came with 4:13 to play in the second quarter. Broncos QB Brock Osweiler summoned Sanders to come across the formation via motion but then sent him back as the wideout approached the tackle box. Butler overreacted, trying to jump out ahead of the motion while simultaneously looking into the backfield. It was then he realized Sanders had done an about-face. To his credit, Butler recovered and jumped on Sanders shortly after the snap of the ball, actually shoving the receivers’ right shoulder in an attempt to disrupt the pattern. 

As Sanders turned upfield, he appeared well-covered by Butler. But then another old habit that’s been hard for Butler to break appeared. He lost track of the ball once it took flight. Sanders slapped on the brakes and high-pointed the football while Butler watched, helplessly flat-footed. Chalk up another 23-yard gain.

“I would just say he underthrew it and I got pushed by,” said Butler. “I probably burst because I was expected the ball to come too. You just got to play it the best way you can. Things happen. He just made a great play. I was in good position but not good enough.”

Sanders caught one more pass on the drive, and should have had a touchdown in the second quarter, streaking past Butler toward the end zone. But Osweiler made a terrible throw, unable to even keep it in the field of play. Hence another field goal instead of a touchdown. Bullet dodged - and there were a few.

“You can’t win with three all day,” said Butler of the defense’s red-zone efficiency. “They’re very hard on us on protecting the red area and not giving up touchdowns in the red area. Bend but don’t break. That’s been the motto.”

The Patriots would break later and Sanders beating Butler was a part of it. The play coming about five minutes into the third quarter on Denver's only TD-scoring drive. The Broncos came out in trips, employing a bunch formation that had plagued the Patriots so often the first month of the season. Unlike then, the Pats handled communication perfectly and as Sanders worked toward the seam, Butler had good position and help toward the post, with safety Duron Harmon eyeballing Sanders the entire way. So did Butler do? He gave up outside leverage, with Sanders breaking hard to the flag. Butler’s footwork was a mess - he got spun around like he was auditioning for "Dancing With the Stars" - and was unable to recover until Sanders had picked up another 23 yards.

“Another good route,” said Butler. “He got me thinking inside and broke out. He’s a good player. A great receiver.”

There’s no denying Sanders’ talent, but Butler has got to be better and more consistent. He’s too often been lost in coverage or gotten caught gambling, eyeballing a big play that’s rarely come in 2017. With their issues up front, it’s the Pats secondary that’s going to have to lead the way. The corners have only occasionally played to the level expected of them. The clock is ticking. Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: this is when the Patriots want to be playing their best football. About time Butler answered the call.