Gameday Walkthrough: You're watching the greatest combo ever

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Gameday Walkthrough: You're watching the greatest combo ever

Welcome to the final regular-season Sunday of 2012. We have four weeks of football left after today, just 11 games. Amazingly rapid season, weren't it?Last night, I was toodling around the worldwide web when I started wondering how many coaching wins Bill Belichick trails Don Shula by. Including playoffs,Belichick is currently 203-108 in 18 seasons as a head coach and 166-63 in New England. Shula compiled 347 total wins in his 33 years as a head coach.Noting on Twitterwhere Belichick stood, I said he could move into sixth behind the legendary Paul Brown with a 14-win regular season in 2013. WRONG! He passed Paul Brown in 2010 when Belichick got his 170th win. Brown's 47 wins in the AAFC must have been included in this list of winningest coaches which I leaned on when tweeting. Either way, it's kind of a jumble out there because there are lists which stick to regular-season wins and others that combine regular season and playoffs. Working of of the TOTAL NFL wins, here's how it currently stands. 1. Don Shula (33 years) -- 347
2. George Halas (40 years) -- 324
3. Tom Landry (29 years) -- 270
4. Curly Lambeau (33 years) -- 229
5. Chuck Noll (23 years) -- 209
6. Marty Schottenheimer (21 years) -- 205
7. Bill Belichick (18 years) -- 2038. Dan Reeves (23 years) -- 201
9. Chuck Knox (22 years) -- 193
That's as far as I know. Who was the greatest coach ever? That's really a subjective discussion and total wins aren't the best measure. For instance, Vince Lombardi's not on this list. Or Jimmy Johnson. Or Bill Walsh. Or Paul Brown. Shula has the most wins but he also was at the controls of a team that suffered the seminal upset in NFL history (the 1969 Colts) and was head coach of the 1993 Dolphins who blew a 9-2 start and missed the playoffs. The ballyhooed perfect season? Can't do any better than perfect, but mercy, their competition was awful. Miami's 14 regular-season opponents combined for a record of 70-122-4. That's a .367 winning percentage. The two games they played against teams that finished with winning records both went 8-6. Nine of the games were against teams that won five or less. No Miami opponent made it to the playoffs in 1972. Details. That's where the answers lie. Joe Montana, 4-0 in Super Bowls, HAS to be better than Tom Brady who's currently 3-2. Right, and Montana was one-and-done in three consecutive playoff appearances from 1985-87, throwing 0 TDs and five picks. Long story short, you're may be watching the greatest coach in NFL history. You may also be watching the greatest quarterback. You're definitely watching the greatest combo. Stunned and amazed that Patrick Chung wasn't fined for the hit he laid on Cecil Shorts III last Sunday in Jacksonville. Chung explained to me after the game he was going too fast to let up and that Shorts ducked his head. Still, I thought it was head contact on a defenseless receiver. I'd rather see a player keep his money than kick it back to the league, so good for Chung. But I'm now more confused as to what the NFL's trying to ban since that seemed a textbook head shot. Chung is among nine prominent Patriots with contracts that expire after this season. Some of the others are Kyle Arrington, Julian Edelman, Dane Fletcher, Danny Woodhead, Trevor Scott, Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib and Wes Welker.Of those players, Chung is the only one I can see that there would be no tears shed for if he left. Good player, but he might need a reboot in a new city.

Butler, Brown set to square off again in AFC title game

Butler, Brown set to square off again in AFC title game

FOXBORO -- The general consensus has been that when it comes to defending Antonio Brown, or any No. 1 receiver for that matter, the Patriots have two options: Use their top corner Malcolm Butler in man-to-man coverage or double-team him.

There are benefits to each. Butler has the speed an quickness to effectively mirror Brown's routes. Meanwhile, Logan Ryan has found recent success in teaming up with teammates to slow down top options like Houston's DeAndre Hopkins, who was the target when Devin McCourty broke up a fourth-quarter pass that resulted in a Ryan interception last week. 

Both the Steelers and the Patriots seemed to indicate that they knew which way Bill Belichick will lean this weekend. 

"[I] assume maybe that [Butler] will follow AB around," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He’s a guy that really has just come into the role of being pretty much a shutdown corner."

"[Butler] takes this as a big challenge," Patriots defensive captain Dont'a Hightower said. "We obviously know what Antonio Brown is. He’s arguably the best wide receiver in the league. We know what kind of matchup threat he poses. We expect Malcolm to take advantage of that, and I know he’s ready to rise up to that challenge." 

But Brown -- named a First-Team All-Pro this season after reeling in 106 passes for 1,284 yards and 12 touchdowns -- has the ability to make one singular plan of attack obsolete, eventually. The Patriots will have to throw different looks at him to keep him guessing, keep Roethlisberger thinking, and keep their connection somewhat under control.

Here are a few of the options . . . 

COVER-1

In Week 7 against the Steelers, this seemed to be the coverage of choice for the Patriots. They used Butler to shadow Brown all over the field for much of the game while one safety patrolled the deep middle portion of the field.

The third-year corner saw nine targets sent his way while in coverage of Brown. Five were caught for 94 yards.

Though the numbers looked pretty good for Brown fantasy owners, Butler had one of his stronger games of the season, making an interception in the end zone while draped all over his man. That was followed up by a celebrattion that mocked Brown's staple touchdown dance.

Brown and Butler have a relationship after seeing each other over the last two seasons and shooting a Visa commerical together earlier this year, and he sounded fired up to go against Brown again this weekend.

"Most definitely I respect that guy," Butler said of Brown this week. "Great player obviously, and (I) just love to compete and he loves to compete also."

Though Butler found himself on what looked like an island in plenty of situations back in Week 7, the Patriots also had their deep safeties (McCourty and Duron Harmon) keep a close eye on Brown as well.

But on Brown's longest catch of the game, a 51-yarder over the middle of the field, having a safety there didn't mean much due to a smart play-design by offensive coordinator Todd Haley. 

Brown was followed by Butler all the way across the field, and though Harmon may have been in position to help over the top, he had to respect the deep over route run by Steelers burner Darrius Heyward-Bey. By the time Harmon got to Brown -- Heyward-Bey actually helped slow down Harmon by screening him deep down the field -- it was too late. 

IMMEDIATE DOUBLE-TEAM

There were other instances -- like the very first third-and-long of the game for the Steelers -- when the Patriots doubled Brown off the snap with Butler and McCourty. With a player of Brown's caliber, it's not question of either single him with Butler or double him. Doubles will simply be part of the deal, in all likelihood, whether Butler's on him or not.

Back in Week 7, the Patriots were burned by Steelers secondary options on a couple of occasions when they quickly removed Brown from the equation.

The first time Brown was doubled off the snap (above), Eric Rowe was left with Heyward-Bey in a one-on-one situation and was beaten for a 14-yard touchdown in the back corner of the end zone. The second time (below), Heyward-Bey ran across the field with Rowe trailing him, scoring once again from 14 yards out.

A holding penalty negated the second score, but it seemed clear what the Patriots were trying to tell the Steelers in those situations: "Go ahead and beat us with someone else, but we won't let you do it with Brown."

Even when Brown inevitably makes plays despite the extra attention -- the Steelers will run rub routes, screens and reverses simply to get the football in his hands -- it will be incumbent upon everyone to help limit his yards after the catch, McCourty explained this week.

"Brown is a great player and Malcolm has done a great job but it’s going to be all of us," McCourty said. "All of us have to help out and make sure we try to limit him whether that’s getting everyone to the ball, whether it’s a short pass [or] intermediate pass, whether he breaks a tackle and he’s trying to reverse, we all just got to have a high sense of urgency for him and alertness and try to get to him before he’s able to break the 50-60-yard play. I think defensively we all understand that and we’re going to work on that all week."

COVER-2, 2-MAN, COVER-4, ETC., ETC., ETC...

There are plenty of other defenses that the Patriots may choose to run in order to try to take away one of the game's best play-makers. If they feel as though Heyward-Bey or Eli Rogers or another teammate of Brown's is worthy of garnering special attention from one of their safeties, they could opt for more split-safety looks -- with both McCourty and Harmon deep -- than they did in Week 7.

The fact that it's Ben Roethlisberger behind center now -- and not Landry Jones, as it was in Week 7 -- may also help dictate coverages and encourage the Patriots to be more vigilent against the explosive play. 

Bottom line: Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will employ more than one look when they take on the best passing game they've faced all season. Oftentimes that'll mean two sets of eyes on Brown, and even then that's not guaranteed to stop him.

"It's tough because the thing about Antonio Brown and players of that caliber is that they're used to the multiple attention," Ryan said. "He gets doubled, he gets attention. Every team tries to do it, and he still has the numbers he has because he's a great player. That's what great players do.

"We just need to execute a little better than what other teams do. It's possible. It's not impossible. But he's not a guy you're going to completely eliminate from the game, and we've just got to corral him as a team."