Barry Sanders makes his return to Detroit

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Barry Sanders makes his return to Detroit

From Comcast SportsNet
DETROIT (AP) -- The Motor City welcomed back Barry Sanders -- with a roar. The Hall of Fame running back was serenaded with "Bar-ry! Bar-ry!" chants by a handful of fans when he walked onto the turf at Ford Field about an hour before Detroit played Chicago on Monday night. After being on the field for the coin flip, the national anthem was delayed slightly because tens of thousands wouldn't stop chanting "Bar-ry! Bar-ry" just as they did at the Pontiac Silverdome. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2004, five years after his retirement that left some Lions fans bitter in part because he walked away when he was one of his average seasons away from breaking Walter Payton's career rushing record. He had been booed by fans in the area, most notably at a Pistons game, but they seem to have moved on to hail him. "I think they're cool with me now from what I can tell," Sanders said before the game in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think we've all had a chance to reflect. I have mostly good memories about good times." Sanders was surrounded by fans in downtown Detroit, posed for pictures with security guards outside the stadium and was greeted by comic actor Tim Allen when he strolled down the tunnel toward the field. Sanders said he hasn't been to a Lions game in a couple of years and has attended about five since he retired. Sanders insisted he didn't blame fans in Detroit when they were upset with him years ago. "They're very passionate here about sports so they're going to have a very passionate reaction when you do something like I did," he said. Sanders recorded a Detroit-related introduction for "Monday Night Football" after ESPN pulled the "Are you ready for some football?" theme by Hank Williams Jr. He made an analogy that President Barack Obama and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner golfing together was like Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu playing a round. The network says the intro will change each week. "I just said some kind words about the town and the team with a script they gave me," Sanders said. "I enjoyed it and definitely considered it an honor to be a part of the overall buzz this team has created." The Lions won their first four games for the first time since 1980, nearly a decade before they drafted Sanders No. 3 overall out of Oklahoma State. "It's a lot of fun to see this success, getting a little taste of the fruits of what you can accomplish when you put it together on the field," Sanders said. "Hopefully they'll continue to learn how to win and to stay hungry. "To this point, though, this team has fulfilled all hopes and expectations." Sanders' alma mater might have a shot to land his son, Barry Sanders Jr., who the proud father said is also being recruited by Stanford, Florida State and Alabama. "BJ is a senior in high school down in Oklahoma City and he's looking around at colleges," said Sanders, who lives in the Detroit area with his wife and their three children. "I'm relatively involved, going to a few recruiting trips."

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

Bell's style, and unique talents, present challenges to Patriots defense

FOXBORO -- There are plenty of damn good running backs in the NFL but there is only one Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers star shuffles, darts and then dashes, often with bodies crashing all around him, many of them intent on doing serious bodily harm . . . but often failing.

“He’s very unique,” said linebacker Shea McClellin. “I don’t think anyone else runs quite like he does, but it’s efficient and it works.”

Defensive end Chris Long concurred: “His style is so unique, his patience, what he’s able to do with his vision. And as far as breaking tackles, being a complete player, catching the ball, he can do all that stuff.”

Now don’t get it twisted. The Pats respect the hell out of Bell, but they’d prefer they weren’t in charge of corralling him Sunday because everyone has failed during Pittsburgh’s nine-game winning streak. Bell, who played in eight of those games, has piled up over 1,500 yards from the line of scrimmage during that stretch -- 1,172 yards rushing, 336 yards receiving -- while scoring 9 touchdowns. 

“He’s really fun to watch unless you’re getting ready to play him,” said Long.

The respect Bell commands in Foxboro is evident when talking to the Pats running backs, who spoke glowingly about the former first-rounder and in LeGarrette Blount’s case, former teammate.

“No one can do what he does,” Blount told me. “They can try, but it won’t work.”

“That’s his style,” added Dion Lewis, himself a shifty fella. “You can’t try to do that. I’m pretty sure he’s the only guy that can do that.”

So how do the Pats accomplish something no one has been able to do over the last two-plus months? How do they slow Bell down, as they did back in Week 7, limiting him to 81 yards rushing (only 3.9 yards per carry)? 

“I think defensively he really forces you to be disciplined,” said Pats coach Bill Belichick. “You jump out of there too quickly then you open up gaps and open up space. Le’Veon has a great burst through the hole. He doesn’t really need long to get through there, runs with good pad level. He’s hard to tackle so if you don’t get a full body on him then he’ll run right through those arm tackles. [He] really forces everybody to be sound in their gaps.”

“If there’s space or if there’s a gap in the defense or if there’s an edge in the defense, he’s quick to take advantage of that,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia told us during a conference call earlier this week. “He’s going to be able to get into that open space pretty quickly so you can’t really -- I don’t think you want to sit there and guess.”

If the Pats defenders, especially at the linebacker level, do that -- guess and attack a gap aggressively in attempt to make a splash play -- they may fill one gap but open two others. And that’s where a four-yard gain can turn into 40.

“Everyone on the field, it’s their job to get to him, gang tackle and be aggressive,” said Rob Ninkovich. “It can’t be just one time but every time you’re on the field.”

“There’s no one guy that can stop him,” added Belichick. “You’re going to have to have everybody doing a good job in a number of different areas all the way across the front and then do a good job of tackling.”

The Pats are a terrific tackling team, and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher this season (actually, not since November of 2015), but the red-hot Bell will put recent history to the test.