No Huddle: Belichick continues praise of Schiano

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No Huddle: Belichick continues praise of Schiano

Patriots coach Bill Belichick landed in Tampa with his team on Tuesday evening. The next morning he met with reporters before joint practice with the Buccaneers.

Not surprisingly, there was a lot of talk about former Rutgers, current Bucaneers coach Greg Schiano. Belichick gave a positive endorsement of Schiano when the Glazer family was doing its search for a new HC.

Here are a few hits from the press conference.

Can you talk about your recommendation on the Bucs coaching hire?

BB: "All I can do is just be honest. And I do, I think the world of Greg. I think hes a good coach. Hes got a good personality, he treats his players well, hes smart, hes tough. He did a great job with the Rutgers program without some of the opportunities that some other programs that he was going against had. But he competed really well in that conference and against those teams. Ive always been impressed with the way his teams performed. I have no problem saying that at all.

Belichick's son Stephen played one year of Rutgers football under Schiano as a backup long snapper. The relationship between coaches is older than that, however; New England has added more than a few Scarlet Knights to its roster in recent years.

What are some of the challenges moving from coaching in the NCAA to the NFL?

BB: "I dont know. I think Schiano's a very experienced guy. Hes won a lot of games, hes coached a lot of players. Hes coached NFL players, they just were in college, thats all. The Vince Wilforks, the Devin McCourtys, all the guys that hes coached, theyre NFL players, they just werent in the NFL yet. And hes coached in the NFL. So he knows what hes doing. Hell be fine.

Schiano had a 68-67 record in 11 seasons at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights finished with just one season under .500 since 2005.

Is Tom Brady on, well, let's call it a "pitch count," during the preseason?

BB: "Everybodys got to re-establish himself this year every player, every coach and thats what training camp and the preseason games are for, to work our performance back up as high as we can and build on into the season. Weve all got a long way to go. I dont think anybodys even close to where we need to be, and that includes all of us coaches calling plays; players doing their jobs, working with new teammates, getting new timing; new opponent; different look. We havent even started the season yet. We have a long way to go."

Do you feel players are more stimulated during joint practices?

BB: "When you work against the same guy every day, you know what he can do, you respect it, but you know it. Maybe youre confident in certain things he can and cant do. When you go against a new opponent, you dont know how hard that jab is, how good his hook is, how quick he moves, what its like to go against him. It forces you to play your techniques better, to be as good as you can at your specific individual fundamental techniques. But then from a team standpoint, your recognition, your communication, really making sure that were all on the same page and we know exactly what were doing because were not as sure about what theyre doing as we are working against ourselves where we see it more frequently.

How good is to have Sebastian Vollmer and Daniel Fells back?

BB: Theyve both been making good progress and weve taken another small step. Each day is a small step but in the end all those steps end up covering a lot of ground, and those guys have done that. Taking them off PUP, this is a small step. Working them into practice gradually is a small step, and if they continue to progress then well continue to do more. If we need to back off a little bit, then well back off a little bit until theyre ready to resume that progress."

What do you think of One Bucaneer Place, the new Tampa Bay practice complex? Been here before?

BB: No, I was at the old facility many times. Its the first time Ive been here. It looks great. Im certainly impressed with this room and the podium, the media room. Theyre treating you guys pretty good. Spent a little time in the weight room this morning and the fields look good. Its great. Good operations, good facility theyve got a good program and like I said were excited to be here and working with Tampa. Its a great opportunity for our team and were going to try to make the most of it.

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."