Patriots

Harbaugh brothers are both excitable boys

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Harbaugh brothers are both excitable boys

NEW ORLEANS Harbowl? How about Harbawl?
Every coach at every level gets a little exercised. But the Brothers Harbaugh squaring off Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII both get more than a little inflamed on the sidelines.

Jims animation bubbled over during the NFC Championship Game with a tremendous nutty after a replay challenge went against the Niners.
John is a well-known sideline jockey, to the point where he once drew a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty in a game at New England back in 2009. That doesnt happen often.
Are they talented coaches? As good as any in the league. Guts? Both men made stone-cold personnel calls this year Jim going to Colin Kaepernick and John letting go of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron that were catalysts for their teams.
But it doesnt escape notice that their sideline edge-seeking is very much a part of who they are. And woe to the official who crosses them.
Were pretty competitive guys, John Harbaugh admits. Its football. Its a game. If you cant express yourself on the sideline of a football game and be yourself and let your competitiveness out, where can you? Jim has a lot of fun, hes a competitor and he will always be himself.
To me, theyre different, says Mike Pereira, former NFL VP of Officiating and currently a rules analyst for FOXSports. Jim really is not constant. When he goes, he goes. (Like) the reaction that he had in the (NFC) Championship Game when they didnt reverse the pass that was ruled incomplete on that last drive. He goes quickly off the deep end while John seems to be more constantly off the deep end.
They just get so wrapped up in the game that its really incredible when you see that, marvels Pereira. Its always on TV, people see the way that they act. But, I dont know
NFL history is rife with examples of coaches who lose their marbles with regularity. From Madden to Gruden, from Cowher to Coughlin. When a head coach thinks hes getting jobbed, hes going to make his feelings known. Audibly. Demonstrably.
I guess its just the intensity of the profession, says Pereira. Some internalize it and some dont. And its the ones that dont that you see and hear about. You sit there and try to understand it. Why would they go off and act like that when certainly no official would go off and act like that to them? Its a one-sided thing.
Then Ive always felt that football coaches have control over everything, he theorized. They control every decision thats made whether its what offense theyll run or what player theyre gonna cut. Theyre in charge of everything except officiating. They have no control. I think thats what bothers them the most. They cant control it. So when something happens that goes against them, they may not even know if its right or wrong, they just know it went against them.
Niners special teams coach Brad Seely a guy who can boil over himself was asked about Jim Harbaughs wild side.
He wants to win, said Seely. And hes one of those guys who will do whatever he can to win the game. And if that means getting on the official, that means yelling at somebody, hes gonna do that because hes in the moment. But as soon as the games over, its all forgotten. Hey, hes moving on. I know why he does it. Hes so into the games that hes just trying to compete.
Jims default setting is intense. John, on the other hand, is one of the most personable coaches in the league. Approachable. Open. Candid.
John is really a fun guy, Pereira points out. Off the field with John, hes great to be around. I was on the sidelines with him at the Pro Bowl (in February of 2009) as an officiating representative to go over the Pro Bowl rules and go over violations if need be and we had the best time on the sidelines for about three-and-a-half quarters.
Then he got mad at the line judge and the line judge got mad at him and I thought the flags were gonna be thrown, Pereira recalls. I went to my good friend John Harbaugh and said, John, you gotta settle down and I put my hands on him and he knocked my hands off him and he said, Dont you touch me! I said, Wait a minute, you were just telling me how great it was to have me on the sidelines.
Every coach goes off. Bill Belichicks stoic veneer crumbles when he perceives official malfeasance unfolding and any viewer with the ability to lip read the letter F knows Belichicks protestations are not G-rated.
Given the hypersensitivity of NBA referees and Major League Baseball umpires, its amazing the patience NFL officials show relative to their peers.
Pereira says its an accepted part of the job and NFL coaches are usually just blowing off steam.
Apologies?
I remember the one time when Bill Parcells (coaching the Jets in a game at Miami) went off on me and he didnt only go off on me but he went off on the official on the other side of the field, says Pereira. The next day, he called and left me a message in Sacramento saying that he was ashamed of the way he acted. He asked me to forgive him, although saying, You have no right to even think about forgiving me but I apologize. But thats a rarity.
Given the historic nature of the coaching matchup and whats at stake, there will be no shortage of sideline closeups and reaction shots. And lids will undoubtedly flip.
Weve never really faced something that were facing with the Harbaughs now, says Pereira. Not only do you have the brothers whove been competing against each other. Theyve competed against each other going back to games in their front yards. I think theyve added a little bit of their fathers personality which is somewhat the same.
John Harbaugh was asked if hes ever been asked by a family member to tone it down a bit.
No. Thats never happened, he says. Not one time.
Their parents, Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, confirmed that.
The one thing that we watch and take great pride in is that both of them are themselves. We were around (University of Michigan head coach) Bo Schembechler for a long time and there were a lot of coaches that tried to emulate him. The first time you werent yourself, you were exposed and somewhat of a fraud. So, always be who you are and not follow anyone else.
Thats what Pereira sees as well.
I dont think theyre babies. I dont think theyre bullies. I think theyre real, he says. I think they reflect how theyve been competing their whole lives and I dont think theyre phony about it a bit. But they are excitable.

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.