No Huddle: Brady comfortable in no-huddle

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No Huddle: Brady comfortable in no-huddle

BALTIMORE, MD -- From Tom Brady to Torrey Smith, there were plenty of players talking on both sides after Sunday night's 31-30 Baltimore win.
Here are some of the highlights.

Quarterback Tom Brady on if he was comfortable in New England's no huddle offense Sunday night:
"Yeah, I thought it put a lot of pressure on those guys. I don't think they fooled us very much with their different looks. They just played well when they needed to, especially in the red area."
The Patriots went 3-for-5 in the red zone (60 percent). On the first failed opportunity, New England got to the Baltimore 20 in a hurry after Brady connected with Wes Welker on a 59-yard bomb. But after that: Handoff to Stevan Ridley for no gain, handoff to Ridley for 1 yard, and on third-and-9 Brady went back into shotgun and tried to find Julian Edelman. No dice.
The next chance stretched from the end of the third quarter into the fourth. Score 27-21 Patriots, it was first-and-10 on the Baltimore 18. Ridley gained 14 on the carry. With just 4 yards to go, Brady went no huddle and Ridley got the ball again, but Bernard Pollard was ready. He stuffed Ridley for a huge 4-yard loss. Fourth quarter. Patriots again go no huddle. Woodhead gets the ball -- no gain. On third-and-8 Brady found Welker for 6 yards. The 20-yard field goal was good. Baltimore's defense was better.
Ravens cornerback Cary Williams on Brady having an active night:
"He's Tom Brady, man. He's not 'Joe Schmo.' He's a future Hall of Famer. He came out and did what he was supposed to do.
Ah, Williams should know.
Brady went 28-for-41 for 335 yards, one touchdown, and a 101.2 quarterback rating. His seventh drive was a 12 play, 80-yard monster that featured six first downs and some nifty passing: An 11-yard gain on first-and-10 for Brandon Lloyd (Williams on the tackle), 11-yard gain for Welker on third-and-5 (Williams), 10-yard gain for Lloyd on third-and-6 (yup, Williams), and 9 more yards to Lloyd on second-and-7 (Williams!).
Ravens running back Ray Rice on Justin Tucker's game-winning kick:
"I was already sending my farewells. I've seen him make those kicks in practice all the time."
True, the field goal was only 27-yards, but that's a lot of pressure on an undrafted rookie like Tucker. There was some controversy among Patriots regarding whether or not the kick was actually good. Vince Wilfork said, "A game like this, you have to" review such a close call. But it can't be done -- a ball that flies above the uprights cannot be reviewed because there's no reference point to measure against.
Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones on whether he watched brother, Patriots DL Chandler Jones, from the sideline:
"I checked him out a little bit and Baltimore tackle Michael Oher did a great job on him. Today wasn't one of his better days, but he's young and strong, and he's going to be one of the great ones."
More controversy -- and not just in the Jones family home this Thanksgiving. Where the Baltimore opinion may be that Oher "did a great job" on the dynamic rookie, there is another opinion out there that Oher "did a great job" of holding Jones all night. Unchecked holding was a problem with the replacement officials through the first two weeks of football and looked to be on Sunday as well.
Deion Branchon the number of controversial calls:
"It's not the first time we've played in a game with a lot of controversial calls. It was happening on both sides of the ball. I'm sure they were upset about some of those calls, too. But honestly, when we're doing what we do best, we take the game out of the referees' hands."
Leave it to Branch to be diplomatic. And he has a point -- of Baltimore's 28 first downs, just five came via penalty.
Former Patriot, current Raven, James Ihedigbo on playing against his former team:
"When you think about it, any time you get a chance to go against your former team, it's kind of personal. I went into this game with that kind of mentality, and when you put the history of these two teams on top of it, it just became a very personal and emotional thing. It was great the way it turned out. It couldn't be any sweeter."
Ihedigbo was picked up by Baltimore two days after being released from the Patriots on August 31. He served as a captain for Sunday night's coin toss. Jedi mind trick? Either way, he seems very happy with the Ravens.
Ravens receiver Torrey Smith, on his emotions of the day after losing his younger brother:
"I didn't know how I would hold up, but thanks to my teammates and coaches and all the support from really everyone around the league, just everyone, everwhere. You know, I was getting texts and people were telling me on my Twitter. I just thank everyone on behalf of my family."
Smith's brother, Tevin Jones, was just 19 when he died in a motorcycle accident Saturday. The Ravens held a moment of silence before the game to honor Jones' memory. Smith paid tribute on his own by pointing skyward after his first touchdown reception Sunday night.

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."