Patriots

Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

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Van Noy sees playing-time bump as he learns Patriots language

When Kyle Van Noy was traded to the Patriots in late October, he had a lot to learn. He needed to understand the layout of his new team's maze-like facility. He needed to adjust to a new locker room. He needed to adapt to a new home. 

He also had to become fluent in a new language.

The former Lions 'backer was inactive for two weeks before he was comfortable enough with the Patriots system -- and the coaching staff was comfortable enough with him -- to get on the field. He played 29 snaps against the Niners in first game with his new club, then saw 28 plays against the Jets. On Sunday he saw his role expand as he played 40 of a possible 51 plays, which was more than Shea McClellin (38) or Dont'a Hightower (33). 

"Kyle has done a great job of working really hard to acclimate to what we’re doing, and he has had to learn really fast as far as the system, the communication, the language," said defensive coordinator Matt Patricia on a conference call Tuesday. "It’s like when you go to a different system, offensively or defensively, a lot of times it’s just learning the vernacular and the verbiage . . . That’s a big part of it. Then getting more familiar with that kind of terminology and the communication is critical because there’s a lot of calls and adjustments, things like that that we’ve got to do on the field."

Van Noy was making some of those calls himself on Sunday as he wore the green dot on his helmet when Hightower was on the sidelines. Even with the added responsibility, Van Noy was able to play freely enough that he put together what might have been the best game of his three-year career. 

Used at the end of the line of scrimmage as well as in a more traditional off-the-line linebacker role, Van Noy was effective in defending both the pass and the run: He stuffed three Rams rush attempts, he recorded a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion, he drew a holding call, and he recorded an athletic interception when he tracked a wobbling Jared Goff pass that floated over the middle after Jabaal Sheard hit Goff's arm as the rookie released his throw.

After several of his stand-out plays, Van Noy was visibly excited on the field and later on the sidelines. It was the culmination of six weeks of work, learning as much as he could from a coaching staff that was eager to teach him. 

"He’s extremely prideful in his work and his approach to the game," Patricia said. "He’s very cerebral. He’ll ask a lot of questions. He really wants to understand what we’re doing and why, which is great. We’re trying to give him those answers and insight into kind of where some of this either came from or developed or situations like that so that’s really good."

Steelers' great escapes - resilience or luck?

Steelers' great escapes - resilience or luck?

FOXBORO - The Steelers have done what they were "supposed to do." Barely.
 
That's how Mike Tomlin put it two weeks ago when he spoke about holding serve until his team's Week 15 matchup with the Patriots. Then as long as the winner of that game wins out, Tomlin explained in his interview with NBC's Tony Dungy for Football Night in America, the site of the AFC title game will be decided.

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Since that interview, the Steelers have won three games by a combined seven points. Their latest triumph came on Sunday night, a skin-of-their-teeth, hold-onto-your-butts, 39-38 comeback win over the Ravens. In Week 13, they nipped the Bengals in a brutal affair, 23-20. In Week 12, they escaped a primetime matchup with the Brett Hundley-led Packers, 31-28. 
 
Eight Steelers games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less. Tomlin's team is 7-1 in those games, including close victories over the Colts, Lions, Chiefs and Browns. 
 
There are two ways of looking at those numbers. The first? The Steelers are clutch. The second? That kind of close-and-late success is not sustainable. 
 
In all likelihood, a regression is coming. 
 
The Steelers defense, now forced to go without top linebacker Ryan Shazier, will probably be the culprit whenever that regression hits. Pittsburgh allowed the Ravens to pick up 6.7 yards per play and 5.8 yards per carry, and it gave up four touchdowns on Joe Flacco's four red-zone trips Sunday night. Against an offense that ranked in the bottom third of the league, according to Football Outsiders DVOA going into the game, that's an out-and-out problem.
 
The Patriots (10-3), unlike the Steelers (11-2), didn’t do what they “supposed to do” in Miami on Monday, and enter the showdown a game behind the Steelers. Still, this game at Heinz Field is the one that matters. It would give the Patriots the tiebreaker over the Steelers, and all Bill Belichick's team would have to do after that is what it would be expected to do: Win out, beat the Bills and Jets, and earn home-field advantage through the AFC Championship Game. 
 
Of course, what you're supposed to do and actually doing it are two very different things -- just ask the Steelers. So maybe Monday night in Miami was more important than it seemed. 

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Tomlin/Steelers vs. Belichick/Patriots: Different strokes for different folks

Tomlin/Steelers vs. Belichick/Patriots: Different strokes for different folks

FOXBORO -- Mike Tomlin has been Pittsburgh’s head coach since 2007, named to the post at the ripe old age of 35. A year later, he and the Steelers won a Super Bowl.

More Lombardi Trophies seemed certain to follow, but -- despite a half-dozen seasons of 10 wins or more -- Pittsburgh and that stacked roster has come up short ever since, including an AFC Championship Game loss at New England last season.

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You might think that would dim Tomlin’s confidence. No chance. He may be a decade older, but he still has oodles of swagger. We saw that earlier in the year when during an interview with Tony Dungy prior to Sunday Night Football, he admitted to looking ahead to the Steelers’ matchup with the Pats.

"I'm going to embrace the elephant in the room. (The game) going to be fireworks," Tomlin said in that conversation. "And it's probably going to be Part 1. That's going to be a big game. But probably, if we're both doing what we're supposed to, the second one is really going to be a big game. Then what happens in the first is going to set up the second one, which is going to determine the location of the second one."

You’d never hear Bill Belichick go that route and he’s won five Super Bowls here in New England. We are now conditioned to believe that’s not only the right way but the only way to do business. I would tend to agree. History doesn’t lie.

Tomlin, however. isn’t adopting Belichick’s public approach. He says he’ll be forthright with the media because he’s doing what he’s supposed to do in his job. Perhaps that’s a little jab at Belichick and the Pats, who have long been less than forthcoming.

“I don’t know if any of us were looking ahead, to be quite honest with you," he said "That was the way it was described by (the media). We were simply answering questions. We were doing our professional due diligence. When we do interviews and people ask us about potential big games down the road, we’re going to politely answer questions and do so honestly. That’s not us down the road, that is us simply performing our professional duties.”

An exuberant fellow, Tomlin thinks it’s foolish to not admit there are larger things at play during the course of a season.

“If you set out on the season to be world champs, obviously you’re going to play in significant games along the way,” he said. “The road gets increasingly narrower. That is part of being [on] the pursuit of a world championship play. It’s ridiculous to goal set and not to acknowledge natural things that occur along the way if you are committed to the pursuit of your goals.”

To reach those goals, Tomlin’s Steelers usually need to go through the Patriots. This season is no different. Right now, Pittsburgh is the top seed in the AFC. The Pats are number two but can reclaim that spot with a win Sunday afternoon.

The Patriots may not have a real rival in the AFC East, but what they have with the Steelers is real.

“It's an awesome thing to be a part of," said Tomlin. "Not something that I or we take for granted. To be in significant games is just part of chasing what it is that we're chasing and to have a routine dance partner that just speaks to their commitment and achievements in similar ways. We're excited to be a part of it. We don't take it for granted. We realize that these type games are just part of what we desire to be.”

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