Patriots

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

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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.

EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.

Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

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Mother Nature gets between Belichick and his Patriots-Falcons film study

If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen? 

Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed. 

Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again. 

"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.

"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.

"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."

Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.

"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."