Patriots keeping their eyes on Cardinals' Peterson

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Patriots keeping their eyes on Cardinals' Peterson

FOXBORO -- Patriots special teams units face a unique problem this week in Patrick Peterson.

Last season, the Cardinals rookie first-rounder returned four kicks for touchdowns, tying an NFL record. Despite his short NFL resume, he has already established himself as the kind of player around whom coaches must game plan.

Nate Ebner was still in college when Peterson was tearing up the NFL last year. But this week of film study has served as a tutorial for the Patriots special teamer as to just how dangerous Peterson can be.

How do the Patriots contain him?

"Be aware of him. Everywhere he is. In every aspect of the kicking game," Ebner said. "Do what we practice. Special teams coach Scott O'Brien put together a good scheme. We need to do it to the best of our ability to stop anything from happening. That's what we're there for."

Peterson possesses good speed -- he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at last year's NFL Combine -- but it's his combination of skills that sets him apart, according to Ebner's scouting report.

"Big guy with a lot of speed, very explosive," Ebner said. "He's got good vision and he's strong. You gotta wrap him up."

Ebner did a good job of that against the Titans in Week 1. He finished the game with two tackles on special teams to lead the Patriots.

When he was drafted, considering his background as an elite rugby player, Ebner was expected to be a special teams ball hawk. It appears as though he's on his way.

"If a play comes to me I try to do my best to make it happen," he said. "I play the best I can every week and try and get better as the games come. Make plays as they come."

Peterson seems to live by the same philosophy. Unfortunately for the Patriots this week, plays seem to come to him more regularly than most.

On Tuesday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised Peterson's work on defense as well as his ability to return kicks.

"Hes very dangerous on punt returns, that goes without saying," Belichick said during a conference call. "Hes a big guy, has good length, good speed so hes a hard guy to throw over in the secondary. Excellent ball skills. If he gets his hands on the ball, youre looking at a lot of trouble, not just interceptions but probably a run back for touchdowns, too. It would be like a punt return."

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)