Patriots

Giardi: Patriots embracing competition in joint practices

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Giardi: Patriots embracing competition in joint practices

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Virginia – Tom Brady barked his cadence loudly before tapping his foot once. His slot receiver, Julian Edelman, released quickly off the line of scrimmage, getting on to Houston cornerback Jonathan Joseph in a snap. Joseph tried to get his hands on Edelman in an attempt to gain balance and leverage. The Pats wideout wasn’t having any of it, using his arm to fend of Joseph’s right hand, then turning his shoulders, creating even less surface space for Joseph to grab. Scrambling to gain control, Joseph opened his hips slightly. Huge mistake. Edelman planted off his inside, left foot and cut hard toward the sideline. Joseph got turned around completely, leading to an easy completion and plenty of running room. 

Why is this noteworthy? Well aside from Joseph being one of the best corners in the AFC, it highlights another reason why joint practices are a critical part of Bill Belichick’s formula. Prior to the session with Jacksonville last week, Edelman and his fellow receivers were finding less and less space to operate against the Pats defensive backs. Yes, those guys get paid too, but after a while, there are no secrets between teammates, especially as we get deeper into training camp.

“That’s the great thing about these practices,” said Edelman. “You have an opportunity to get out of training camp…it’s almost like you’re in school and you go on a field trip. You may be learning things but it’s like 10 times better than when you’re in class. It’s the same thing with joint practices. You get to go out, hit someone new, use your techniques that you’ve been working on for so long against someone new, and see how they stack up.”

That’s not to say it’s easy. It’s not. Houston’s defense is as good as you’ll see and Edelman and the rest of the Pats offense discovered that for the better part of the 2-plus hour practice Tuesday. But there were moments, be it in the aforementioned example featuring Edelman and Joseph, or later, when Chris Hogan ran by both Joseph and Kareem Jackson some 45 yards or so down the field to reel in a beautiful thrown bomb by Brady. Stephen Gilmore, Malcolm Butler or Eric Rowe would have known how quickly Hogan can get even and then go by you. Joseph and Jackson did not.

“It’s great to be able to have this,” said Brandin Cooks. “Last week, it was Jacksonville, this week now having a great defense in Houston. All it’s doing is just sharpening your game. Not having the same people in front of you, having the mix and the feel for the competition that we’ll be seeing all year round, I think it’s a great thing we’re doing.”

Edelman had a different way to describe it. He was in full storyteller mode (maybe that has something to do with a certain book he wrote with one Tom E. Curran).

“It’s the brother syndrome,” said Edelman. “You go out, your mother is not around, you’re with your brother and all day you hang out and you guys end up beating each other up. When you get to go out and play with someone else, it’s a little different. You get to have fun, and take pride on that, and you’re actually closer with your brother who’s there with you and you work harder together as a family.“

Based on how uneven the offense was on day one, I’d bet the two chief babysitters of this family - Belichick and Brady - will be asking for even more work from the skill position players. And there is no better time to do - and discover what works and what doesn’t - then in these sessions. Right mom?

Browns' GM John Dorsey says dumping Kenny Britt "was an easy decision"

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Browns' GM John Dorsey says dumping Kenny Britt "was an easy decision"

After a nearly ineffective performance against the Miami Dolphins, it appeared that injuries were finally catching up to the Patriots.

A few days after their dreadful Monday Night Football performance, the team moved to sign wide receiver Kenny Britt. The receiver has not had the most productive 2017 but put up 1,000 yards receiving as recently as last year.

Britt is healthy, and Patriots fans will look for him to help out a struggling offense immediately. But can the wide receiver put his troubled past in Cleveland behind him?

John Dorsey, during his first full day as GM, made it a priority to immediately cut Britt. Today on WKNR 850 Cleveland, Dorsey ripped into the former Browns wide receiver.

"I have no problem making that decision,'' Dorsey said today on "The Really Big Show'' with Aaron Goldhammer on WKNR, a radio partner of the Browns. "From a cultural standpoint, I don't think he fits in the prototypical character point of what I'm looking for in terms of a leader. He did not live up to his expectations as a player.''

Dorsey went on to add that Britt "may have a higher opinion of himself than I have of him as a player, so I thought that was easy.''

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Should the priority for Patriots D be Brown or Bell?

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Should the priority for Patriots D be Brown or Bell?

FOXBORO -- Listen to Bill Belichick long enough, and you may wonder if the Patriots defense has much of a chance this weekend. 

At his press conference earlier in the week, the Patriots coach made the Steelers offense sound like a high-powered windup toy that has steadily and unyieldingly waddled its way for touchdown after touchdown in pursuit of the No. 1 seed in the AFC.

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On running back Le'Veon Bell, Belichick was effusive in his praise: "He's a tremendous player. He leads the league in yards from scrimmage and that’s about really all you need to know...He does whatever he needs to do. If you want to see him run hard, run over people, run downhill then you can find plenty of plays of that. You can see him with his vision finding space in the defense. There’s plays on that. Catching the ball – plenty of plays on that. The guy doesn’t lead the league in yards from scrimmage by doing one thing, doing it a little bit. He does everything."

On receiver Antonio Brown, Belichick was equally complimentary when asked what makes Brown special: "Everything. Just make a list. He's on all of it."

The question is, which player will Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia consider the priority? Ideally, of course, they'd like to slow down both. But if they had to pick one, Bell or Brown, who would it be?

The answer, in my opinion, is Brown. And it's not really close.

Belichick and Patricia's plans to force opponents to string together long drives and execute in the red zone are well-established. Their defensive numbers from this season tell the story. The Patriots are 29th in the league in yards allowed, but they're fifth in points due in part to what they've done inside the 20s.

That strategy could be particularly useful this week as the Steelers are the No. 25 red-zone offense in football. If the Patriots can make Pittsburgh's offense work from an area where it's statistically below-average, they'd be giving themselves a better shot at success than if they're allowing huge chunks of yardage to be ripped off in a play or two.

Hand-offs to Bell would be preferred, it would stand to reason, over bombs to Brown.

Plus, there's the fact that the Steelers running game simply hasn't been very efficient in 2017. Bell leads the league in yards from scrimmage, but he's doing it by averaging 3.9 yards per carry. As a team, the Steelers have a yards-per-attempt average of 3.7, fifth-worst in the league.

Add it to the list of reasons for why it makes sense for the Patriots to encourage Pittsburgh to keep it on the ground - even if that means more touches for one of the most talented players in football.

The argument against this approach could be made by referencing one of Belichick's go-to adages: Tough football teams run the ball, stop the run and cover kicks. Stopping the run is a consistent focus from week to week for the Patriots.

But in certain situations, Belichick has proven he's perfectly fine with allowing explosive passing offenses to hand it off again and again. He has a game plan that's sitting in the Hall of Fame because as defensive coordinator of the Giants in Super Bowl XXV he was OK with Thurman Thomas running for 135 yards and a touchdown. As long as the "K-Gun" offense didn't chuck it all night, Belichick liked his chances.

"I felt like if we went into the game and just tried to shut down Thurman Thomas," Belichick said in ESPN's "Four Falls of Buffalo" 30 for 30 documentary, "it would be a 50-pass game. And I didn’t really think that’s where we wanted to be."

It would come as little surprise if Belichick felt the same way about the Steelers.

So, how would it look if the Patriots sold out to stop Brown, who is now considered the second-best bet (tied with Russell Wilson and behind only Tom Brady) to be named NFL MVP, according to Bovada, despite the fact that a receiver has never won the award?

Malcolm Butler has a history of checking Brown, and despite the fact that Butler has had an up-and-down season, their skill sets match up well enough. Using Butler underneath with Duron Harmon over the top could be the tactic. That would leave Stephon Gilmore to take the bigger and more physical JuJu Smith-Schuster, while Eric Rowe could be the choice to take on the long-and-lanky Martavis Bryant.

Whether it's Butler, Stephon Gilmore or Jonathan Jones as the corner on Brown, throwing obvious doubles that way and steering Ben
Roethlisberger in a different direction seems sensible, if not foolproof.

"Even if you get, at times, you get two guys on him, staying in front of him is tough," Devin McCourty said of Brown. "I think what you see him do -- which usually a lot of receivers that are not 6-[foot]-3 and 6-4 don’t get credit for it -- he makes catches in surrounding areas where there’s three guys around him. Or Ben throws it in between two guys and it looks there’s no way he’s going to come down with it . . .

"You’re not going to probably come out of this game [and] he has two catches for 10 [yards]. It’s just not going to happen. He’s too good of a player but you’ve got to try to contain him somewhat and not let him just ruin the game for you."

For the Patriots to follow-through on a plan that would encourage the Steelers to lean on Bell over Brown, their front-seven will have to play better than it has of late. If Trey Flowers (ribs) and Kyle Van  Noy (calf) could return to action, they'd be a boon for a group that has allowed 123.3 yards rushing the last three weeks and helped rookie Dolphins running back Kenyan Drake look like an All-Pro on Monday.

But even with banged-up personnel on the defensive line and at the linebacker level, encouraging the Steelers to run looks like a
decidedly better idea than the alternative.

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