Patriots

Steelers D moving away from zone after Brady cut them up in AFC title game?

Steelers D moving away from zone after Brady cut them up in AFC title game?

Were the Steelers so soundly beaten in last season's AFC Championship Game that they're considering a philosophical shift in the way they play defense? Sure sounds that way. 

Per an ESPN report from Steelers organized team activities, the club is hoping to move away from playing primarily zone coverages in order to give them a better shot at beating the Patriots and winning a championship. 

"That's the way to win a Super Bowl," corner Artie Burns told ESPN's Jeremy Fowler.

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Tom Brady carved up Steelers zones in January to move on to Super Bowl LI, passing for 384 yards and three touchdowns. The Steelers didn't play exclusively in zone, but when they did there were gaping holes that Brady found for big gains.

Chris Hogan caught nine passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, while Julian Edelman reeled in 118 receiving yards and a score. Nine different players caught passes for the Patriots that night at Gillette Stadium.

"It's always some opening in a zone defense," Burns told Fowler. "It's someone who missed a drop, or it's always some group in a zone defense. To be able to play man, to get a guy right in someone's chest with the pressure, it affects the quarterback a little bit."

Burns is in his second year with the Steelers and has the type of skill set that would seem to translate to more press-man coverage. Recently-added corners Coty Sensabaugh and rookie Cam Sutton also seem suited to match up against opposing receivers in man. 

The Steelers defense was known for its pressuring zone schemes for years under former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who is now running the defense in Tennessee. Current Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Keith Butler, who has been with the team since 2003, carried over some of those same ideas when he took on his current position in 2015. 

Changing old habits, and finding personnel to fit a new approach, isn't usually a quick-and-easy process. But if the Steelers are able to shape-shift defensively this season, the Patriots should be ready for it by the time they visit Pittsburgh in Week 15. 

Patriots-Bengals Preview from Tom E. Curran: No cinch in Cincy

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AP Images

Patriots-Bengals Preview from Tom E. Curran: No cinch in Cincy

Here we have two teams at opposite ends of the food chain. The 10-3 Patriots and the 1-12 Bengals. Unfortunately, they have one thing in common. Neither one scores much. The Bengals high for the season is 23 points and that was in Week 4. They’ve only scored more than 20 points twice. 

The Patriots have scored fewer than three offensive touchdowns in five out of six games and the lone game they scored three – in Houston – two came in the very late stages after falling behind 21-3. So this game has the potential to look like a Patriots-Bengals from the not-so-distant past. Not the “On to Cincinnati” game people remember from 2014, but the ugly slog in the rain a year earlier when the Patriots lost 13-6 at Cincy. 

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So many elements are the same now for the Patriots offense – limited talent at wideout and a lack of protection up front. 

Because of the Patriots' offensive struggles, what seemed for months like a simple walkover has the potential to be uncomfortably competitive.

 

 

Let the Terrell Suggs speculation begin: Ravens reunion? Patriots pickup?

Let the Terrell Suggs speculation begin: Ravens reunion? Patriots pickup?

Could the Patriots be seeing a familiar, old rival in the playoffs? Or could they be seeing him on their own defense for their playoff run?

The Arizona Cardinals released longtime Pats nemesis Terrell Suggs, 37, on Friday and he'll be on waivers until Monday. While the Patriots, at 10-3, are far down on the waiver list to claim him, the former Pro Bowl linebacker's old team, the Baltimore Ravens, with the NFL's best record at 12-2, are last in line, so a potential reunion appears to be a long shot.

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If he goes unclaimed, he'll be a free agent, calling to mind two years ago when the Pats snapped up pass rusher James Harrison, then 39, after Harrison passed through waivers following his release from the Steelers. 

While it's not the Patriots defense, but an offense that hasn't scored more than 20 points in a game since Halloween, that could use a boost this season, the idea of the guy who once refused to say Tom Brady's name (he'd call him "the pretty boy up north") surfacing in New England was too good to resist for a couple of ex-players: