With Bell and Bryant out, Steelers lean even more on Brown


With Bell and Bryant out, Steelers lean even more on Brown

FOXBORO -- Antonio Brown isn’t built like Megatron, Larry Fitzgerald or even Dez Bryant, but there was no more productive wide receiver in the NFL last year than the Steelers premier pass catcher. 129 receptions, nearly 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even in a league that’s made playing in the secondary damn near impossible, that’s some kind of year.

Is it possible for Brown to be even more involved in Pittsburgh’s offense on Thursday night, especially as they deal with the suspensions of star tailback Le’Veon Bell and number-two wideout Martavis Bryant?

“Could they get him the ball more?” questioned a bemused Bill Belichick. “I guess they could. But they get it to him a lot. He's definitely a go-to guy in the passing game, not just in terms of just making plays and {Ben} Roethlisberger going to him, but in terms of scheme, and plays that are designed to -- if not get him the ball -- at least get him a look. Then if the defense takes him away, they can go somewhere else, but at least get him a look at it.”

Brown measures at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, but he plays bigger than that. You see that in his ability to go up and catch the ball at its highest point. While that’s a big deal, Belichick notes it’s Brown’s feet that are the initial difference maker. 

“He's got really good quickness so he's got the ability to get separation, even when guys are close to him, his one-step or two-step quickness to get away," Belichick said. "And he's got really good hands, so he doesn't need a lot of separation.” 

But with Brown, it goes beyond that. He’s one of those receivers with that innate ability to get open, processing information quickly both pre-snap and as he gets off the line of scrimmage.

“Even if you're in a good leverage position and you have him covered or you have him covered downfield, he's really smart enough to understand what the coverage is, how the coverage leverage works and be able to work off of it,” said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia in a conference call earlier in the week.

Belichick echoed those thoughts Monday morning.

“He's a good technique route-runner, so he does a really good job of making routes look the same that are different,” he said “Making the inside route and the outside look the same or the over and the corner route look the same. Things like that. His releases are good. He does a good job of at the line of scrimmage of getting into his route and attacking the defense quickly.” 

Todd Haley, the Steelers' offensive coordinator, has been smart enough to move Brown across the formation. He’ll line up anywhere, and that’s an added headache for Patricia’s defense. Do the Pats decide to take their best cover corner in Malcolm Butler and have him shadow Brown all over? Or do they stick to what they’ve done throughout the preseason, leaving Butler on the left side and trust that Bradley Fletcher, Tarell Brown and Logan Ryan can hold their own? The latter seems like a risky proposition because it’s difficult to always get help over the top on someone as quick a Brown is.

As you would imagine, Belichick didn’t tip his hand to which way the Pats were leaning. 

“This is not the kind of guy you want to back off, let them throw it to him and then come up and make the tackle. That'll be a challenge,” he said. “On the other hand you don't want him to get over the top of the defense either. He's a huge problem.”

One that must be solved, or the Pats will find themselves in an unwanted shootout against as good a receiver as they’ll face at any point this season.

QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Jerod Mayo breaks down the best way for Patriots to attack Jaguars defense


QUICK SLANTS THE PODCAST: Jerod Mayo breaks down the best way for Patriots to attack Jaguars defense

Jerod Mayo talks with Tom E. Curran and Phil Perry about the Patriots AFC Championship matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

(2:00) Jerod Mayo gives his X’s and O’s breakdown of the Jaguars defensive schemes and traits.

(5:00) Jerod gives his opinion on how the Patriots offense should attack the Jaguars defense.

(8:30) Could Gronkowski be the key to the Patriots offense? What would be the best way to use him?

(15:00) Does the Jaguars defense have a weakness against vertical routes?

(17:00) Jerod Mayo explains why James White could be a key once again for the Patriots. 

(21:00) Will Jaguars change their defensive scheme after allowing 42 to the Steeler?

(23:00) Will much will the Jaguars having the ‘nothing to lose’ mindset impact the game?

Jaguars have Ramsey's back


Jaguars have Ramsey's back

Enough has been made of Jalen Ramsey’s bold proclamation that the Jaguars are going to win the Super Bowl despite the fact that they’re aren’t even on that stage yet.

I know it’s not how the Patriots do business but other teams do. Does it generally work? Well, no one can match the Pats sustainability but that doesn’t mean that style can’t be effective in shorter windows.

Look at the Seahawks or Ravens. Even the Giants could be boisterous. That leads me back to the Jags, who have Ramsey’s back.

“We’re so close that I think it’s OK to say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this,’’’ said defensive tackle Malik Jackson.

“The man has confidence in his team,” added Abry Jones, also a defensive tackle. “What’s he going to say? He knows what we’re going up there to do. It’s not like he’s saying anything that’s not true.”

“He does things very passionately,” Calais Campbell told the Rich Eisen show. “You feed off that. When you see a guy who loves the game as much as he does, you can’t help but fall into the same mentality.”

That is what makes Ramsey different from say Mike Mitchell, the Steelers safety who ran his mouth weeks ago about beating the Patriots in the AFC title game and then stood outside the Jags locker room and yapped about what a long day the visitors were in forSunday. How’s that working out for Mitchell now? He’s at home while Ramsey is about to play in his biggest game as a pro.

“He’s going to talk, but he’s going to show up,” Yannick Ngakoue said. “I just don’t like people talking all week. You talk reckless, man, and you lose. It is what it is.”

That is not an indicator to the Jags that Ramsey is looking ahead.

“He’s just happy,” noted Ngakoue. “He understands we have a giant in front of us and he’s got to pay all of his attention to this team. We don’t even know who’s going to play in the Super Bowl…We understand we have to do what we have to do or we’ll be watching the Super Bowl at home like everybody else.”

Of course, Ngakoue, the gifted edge rusher on that fearsome front 4, had some pointed words to the Steelers after that 45-42 win Sunday saying “real people don’t say nothing. Real people are quiet but then throw the first punch…they thought they were bullies today. We were the bullies. See you next year.”

That’s not Ramsey’s modus operandi however. He got under A.J. Green’s skin so much that the normally peaceful Bengals wideout threw punches at the Jags corner during the game and reportedly wanted more after the game. Then - and now - Jacksonville seems okay with it so long as the All-Pro corner continues to deliver the goods.

“Everybody has their own persona,” said Leonard Fournette. “Whatever motivates them. We aren’t worried about two weeks ahead of us. We aren’t worried about the Super Bowl. It’s the next game. It’s Sunday in New England.”