Patriots

Steelers DC: Patriots do things that are 'on the edge of being legal or not legal'

Steelers DC: Patriots do things that are 'on the edge of being legal or not legal'

FOXBORO -- It may not be long before Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tells Steelers coordinator Keith Butler to "study the rule book and figure it out." 

Butler made an appearance on Steelers.com's Coodinators' Corner show this week and hinted that the Patriots do things that border on illegal, seemingly referencing their use of odd formations in the Divisional Round of the playoffs two seasons ago as an example.

"I don't think they're doing anything special," Butler said when asked why it's so difficult to prepare for the Patriots offense. "I think sometimes they do things outside the box sometimes, you know, that might be on the edge of being legal or not legal.

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"They've done a couple of things in the past . . . putting an offensive tackle out as ineligible but he's not really. And so sometimes the emphasis by the NFL in terms of what they call and what they don't call, they use that a little bit. And they've been accused of doing a lot of things. But the thing we've got to do is ignore that and play, and hopefully we can give them something they haven't seen from us."

After the Patriots ran their unusual formations against the Ravens in January of 2015, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh insisted that no one had ever seen those formations before, and he was certain the league would look at their legality. Reacting to Harbaugh's comments that night, Brady defended his team's tactics. 

"Who knows? Maybe those guys gotta study the rule book and figure it out," Brady said at the time. "We obviously knew what we were doing and we made some pretty important plays. It was a real good weapon for us. Maybe we’ll have something in store next week."

Brady added: "I don’t know what’s deceiving about that. [They] should figure it out."

In the aftermath of the game, the league was open about the fact that New England's formations were, in fact, legal. However, the following week, the NFL's head of officiating Dean Blandino pointed out that Nate Solder's touchdown grab in the AFC title game should not have counted due to an illegal substitution call that was missed.

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The Patriots have yet to run much in the way of formational trickery this season, save for an alignment in Week 5 against the Browns in which Solder was lined up as the left guard next to center David Andrews. On the opposite side of the formation Joe Thuney lined up outside right tackle Cameron Fleming as a tight end. That play resulted in a short LeGarrette Blount run.

Butler added that, "If we're going to beat them, we can't get beat mentally, either, in terms of making mistakes. We can't make mistakes -- mental mistakes. And we have to tackle. If we can do those two things, that will increase our chances of winning immensely."

You can listen to the full interview with Butler -- during which he calls Rob Gronkowski more of a receiver than a blocker and Julian Edelman "more of a possession receiver" -- right here

QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

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QUICK SLANTS PODCAST: Belichick ignoring noise? Or trying to change the narrative?

3:00 Why has Bill Belichick been so surprisingly positive of his team’s performance in tight wins?

6:30 Phil Perry breaks down what grades he gave the Patriots on his report card following the win over the Jets

15:00 Reaction to the Austin-Seferian Jenkins overturned touchdown, and what changes need to be made in the NFL replay system. 

23:00 Why was Patriots offensive line much more effective against Jets?

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25:00 Patriots-Falcons preview, how did Falcons blow a 17 point lead to the Dolphins?

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

What's missing from Patriots? A defense that has a clue

FOXBORO - We’re not quite at the point of fire and brimstone coming down from the skies, or 40 years of darkness, or even dogs and cats living together, but this Patriots season isn’t headed down the right path, despite a 4-2 record and the top spot in the AFC East. 

There are several elements that appear missing at this juncture - chief among them a defense that actually has a clue. Please don’t celebrate holding the Jets to 17 points - I’m looking at you, Dont’a Hightower. Josh McCown threw for just 194 yards against the Cleveland freakin’ Browns for goodness sake, but he got you for 354 and two scores?! Even the 2009 Patriots defense is offended by that.

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We’d be foolish to think the Pats can’t get this leaky unit fixed for reasons so obvious I won’t state them in this space so as not to waste my time or yours. We also know - long before Bill Belichick’s 6 1/2-minute explanation on the Monday conference call - that it's not supposed to be perfect right now. Actually, it’ll never be perfect. That’s not how this game works. 

Yet week after week, we see uncommon breakdowns and one defender looking at the next as if to say, “I thought you had him?” or more to the point, “what the hell were you doing?” It started Sunday at MetLife on the third play of the game. Malcolm Butler, playing 10 yards off Robby Anderson, looking as if he’s never played the position before, inexplicably turning his back on Anderson even though the wide receiver makes no real move to the post. That results in just about the easiest completion of McCown’s life, a 23-yarder on third-and-10. 

On the same series, on another third-and-long, the Pats rushed four and dropped seven into coverage. Defensive end Cassius Marsh continued his season-long trend of rushing so far upfield he ended up in Hoboken. With Deatrich Wise ridden outside on the opposite edge, McCown wisely stepped up and found prime real estate with New York City views. He wanted to throw and could have when the Pats fouled up a crossing route from the backside of the play. But with that much room to roam, McCown took off, scooting for a quick 16 yards and another first down.

Fittingly, that drive ended with a Jets touchdown on yet another dumb play, this one courtesy of Mr. Hit or Miss, Elandon Roberts. Channeling his inner Brandon Spikes, the second-year pro blew off his key and responsibility on third-and-goal from the 1, charging hard to the line. This, despite one of the most feeble play-action fakes you’ll see. In fact, I’m not even sure it was a real play-action fake. Anyway, score it as a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and an indictment on David Harris, who apparently can’t vault past the erratic Roberts on the depth chart.

Similar to the week prior in Tampa, the Pats found better footing after that. They forced three straight three-and-outs in the second quarter and then helped turn the game when Butler intercepted an ill-advised throw by McCown just prior to the half. They got another turnover to start the third, with Butler coming off the edge on fourth-and-1 and forcing McCown into panic mode. The veteran QB fired an off-target throw to - get this - a wide open receiver who went uncovered on a drag route and Devin McCourty was gifted an interception.

But this group frowns on prosperity. It took a little-seen rule to prevent a Seferian-Jenkins touchdown in the fourth, and on the game’s final drive, the Pats allowed a 32-yard completion on fourth-and-12. Then, on what turned out to be the Jets final play, the Pats let Tavaris Cadet leak out of the backfield and run unchecked 20 yards down the field. Had McCown not soiled himself again, Gang Green would have had a first down and at least one crack at the end zone. Then, who knows what the heck happens?

It was just a season ago that the Patriots led the entire NFL in scoring defense. If you’ll recall, we spent a better part of the year wondering if that defense was championship quality. Turns out they were. Right now, we’re wondering once again if this defense is of that ilk, but through an entirely different prism. It’s on the players and staff to change the current outlook, or those cats and dogs will have to figure out their shared space.