I’m having an Austin Powers flashback.
Remember how easy it was to get Will Ferrell’s character to spill the beans? All you had to do was ask him the same thing three times.
With the Steelers, it’s even easier. You don’t have to ask. They’ll just tell you.
"You just have to jam him up a little bit, mess with his timing," said linebacker Ryan Shazier. "You have to mess up their timing and get in his face with pressure, then I feel we can slow him down a little bit."
This, ladies and gentleman, is how the Steelers will defend Rob Gronkowski in Thursday night’s season opener at Gillette Stadium. Guess the cat’s out of the bag.
Your thoughts, Gronk?
“Some games I get jammed the whole game, some games I never get jammed. So when we go out there and practice, we practice everything—getting jammed, not getting jammed, how to get off it, a little move.”
Sounds like Gronk’s got a few tricks up his sleeve. He’ll need them against Lawrence Timmons, who will likely draw Gronk in man coverage. The 29-year-old received PFF’s 11th highest inside linebacker grade last season and was named a second-team All-Pro.
That’s not to say Gronk should be worried. This is a team he’s dominated in the past. In three prior matchups, Gronk has posted 309 yards and four touchdowns while reeling in 21 of his 24 targets. The Texans are the only team in the AFC he’s averaged more yards against.
Timmons can jam Gronk all he wants, but it won’t erase the fact that he’s 6’6” with alien hands and unfair 4.6 speed. The three-time Pro Bowler is essentially matchup-proof. With Brandon LaFell sidelined and Julian Edelman coming off an injury that cost him most of training (it’s the Patriots so we don’t know the specifics), Gronk should be well fed on Thursday night.
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Another subplot to watch is the Patriots’ running game, or lack thereof. LeGarrette Blount, who basically ran into brick walls all preseason, is suspended for Week 1 while the Pats’ next best option, Jonas Gray, is on his way to Tennessee for a tryout after getting cut. That leaves New England with Brandon Bolden, a third-down specialist with exceptional hair and James White, an underachiever with normal hair, as the lead backs. Newcomers Dion Lewis and Travaris Cadet could also get a few carries. Lewis hasn’t played an NFL snap since 2012 while a 45-yard run that was called back because of holding was listed among Cadet’s “career highlights” on his Wikipedia page. Amateur hour doesn’t begin to describe New England’s patchwork backfield. Having lead blocker James Develin on the shelf with a broken tibia only makes matters worse.
If you want to see ground and pound Thursday night, change the channel. Pittsburgh’s backfield is on life support while Le’Veon Bell serves his two-game suspension. Things have gotten so bleak that tight end Will Johnson has been working with the running backs at practice. Newly acquired Jordan Todman might actually get decent playing time in Week 1 behind ancient starter DeAngelo Williams and toothpick gadget back Dri Archer.
Can you say shootout? Vegas can. The Westgate Superbook set the over/under at 52. That might be generous. The last time these two squared off, the teams blew up for 832 passing yards on 81 attempts with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. The running backs may not be, but the scoreboard operators should be plenty busy Thursday in Foxboro.
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Montee Ball on Falcons’ Radar
For work, I type words on a laptop, usually with football highlights on in the background and a steady source of caffeine nearby to get me through the day.
Football players are programmed to be warriors. They take an insane amount of punishment every day.
Our jobs couldn’t be more different, but we’re both human. Cut day is a brutal, mind-numbingly cruel invention. Sure it’s necessary and yes playing football is a privilege not a right, but that doesn’t make it any easier for someone like Montee Ball.
One of the best college running backs in recent memory while playing at the University of Wisconsin, Ball struggled in his first two years with the Denver Broncos. All camp he was wondering whether he’d make the team. Saturday came and went. The Broncos shaved their roster to 53 and Ball was still on it. Phew, he must have thought to himself. I’m safe.
Except nobody’s safe in the NFL. Less than a day later, the Broncos showed Ball the door. Monday night, he cleared waivers. Ball is now officially unemployed.
Fortunately for Ball, a second chance could be right around the corner. The Falcons have been keeping tabs on Ball since the Broncos let him go on Sunday. Now that he’s a free agent, they’re probably at his doorstep with a fully stocked gift basket, hoping to seal the deal.
Okay, maybe they’re not THAT eager. If the Falcons were that desperate to have Ball, they would have put in a waiver claim instead of letting 30 other teams have a shot at him. But adding a running back does make sense. Atlanta has been searching for an answer at that position since Michael Turner ran out of gas late in his career. Steven Jackson was asked to carry the torch after Turner but he turned out to be just as washed up as his predecessor, totaling a meager 1,250 yards in two seasons. Now the backfield is as uncertain as ever with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman both vying for carries.
Freeman’s receiving expertise was evident during his rookie season (30 catches for 225 yards) but at 206 pounds, he might be too small to be an all-purpose back. So naturally, the Falcons went out and drafted a running back: 210-pound Tevin Coleman from Indiana University. Coleman has run well this preseason (4.8 yards per carry) but not well enough to distance himself from the incumbent Freeman.
This has the look of a full-blown timeshare and Ball would only muddy the waters if the Falcons signed him. It’s a fantasy train-wreck wrapped in a dumpster fire. But sometimes, all you need is opportunity. With Freeman still battling a sore hamstring, Ball could step in and play a role right away.
Of course, “interest” isn’t the same as signing a contract. Getting cut after opening Broncos camp as the No. 2 back is a definite red flag and something the Falcons are well aware of. If Ball wants to be a Falcon, he’ll have to earn it.
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Quick Hits: Devin Funchess is still behind Ted Ginn and Corey Brown on the Panthers’ depth chart at wide receiver. Behind Funchess is probably a cardboard cutout of Kelvin Benjamin … The Bills brought kickers Billy Cundiff and Alex Henery in for workouts on Monday. That should make Dan Carpenter sweat … Geno Smith, who was back at practice Monday for the first time in almost a month, said he won’t press charges against IK Enemkpali for breaking his jaw. Enemkpali joined the Bills practice squad on Monday … Brandon Marshall lost 13 pounds this offseason. That puts him at 230, the same weight he played at during his rookie year … Tre Mason (hamstring) will be a game-time decision against the Seahawks in Week 1. Backup Benny Cunningham looks like a bargain at his current price on FanDuel ($5,100) … Jason Pierre-Paul finally reported for his Giants physical on Monday. It’s been two months since Pierre-Paul blew his finger off in a fireworks accident … Jadeveon Clowney (knee) will suit up for Week 1 but he won’t start … Arian Foster (groin surgery) is expected to return in 4-to-6 weeks … Texans coach Bill O’Brien won’t miss Hard Knocks. When the cameras left he said it was “one of the best days of my life” … Packers rookie Adrian Coxson announced his retirement Monday. He suffered a concussion on the third day of training camp … Cowboys VP Stephen Jones does not expect Christine Michael to play in Sunday’s season opener. The running back was acquired from Seattle on Sunday … Emmanuel Sanders will open the year as the Broncos’ primary punt returner. He returned one punt for 11 yards last season … When asked if he’ll play in Week 1, Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (Achilles) said “Stay tuned” … Packers tight end Richard Rodgers gave up his No. 89 so James Jones could wear it. Rodgers will switch to 82 … Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson (knee) returned to practice. He hadn’t practiced since August 2 … Johnny Manziel (elbow) threw at practice for the first time since August 23. He should be ready to back up Josh McCown Sunday against the Jets … Austin Davis signed with the Browns on Monday. The journeyman QB was let go by the Rams on Saturday … Browns offensive line coach Andy Moeller has been suspended indefinitely. He’s being investigated for an alleged assault on a female houseguest … The Falcons released starting center Joe Hawley on Monday. Gino Gradkowski is expected to take his place … Bryan Stork is listed on New England’s injury report with a concussion. Julian Edelman, who sat out the Patriots’ entire preseason slate, was not on that list … Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson insulted his injury-prone wide receiver Marqise Lee last week by comparing him to the rarely-seen “albino tiger.” Lee thinks it’s an apt comparison. “That reference was perfect, right?” … RotoPat picked the Dolphins to do what? Spoiler: Patriots fans will not be pleased.