Postcards from Patriots Camp: Day 12

836239.jpg

Postcards from Patriots Camp: Day 12

So, before we start, you may notice that I put Day 12 in the headline. The last entry was Day 8. Time warp, right? Noooo. See, the Patriots reported July 25. Theyve had nine practices as of Sunday. But theyve been in camp almost two weeks. So calling Sunday Day 9 of camp isnt terribly accurate. Fascinating, no? I cant wait for a game so I can have more stuff to write about.

WEATHER

Tropical. Hot, humid and in the high 80s. No rain.

WHAT THEY WORE

Full pads. And Brandon Spikes appeared to be wearing a brace on his right knee. Not sure if thats a new addition or standard fare.

WHAT THEY DID

1:45-2:30: The same walkthrough, stretching, positional stretching, positional drills that they always do.

2:30: 11-on-11 Drills with a lot of situational stuff mixed in

2:45: Special teams (directional kickoffs and coverage)

2:55: 7 on-7

3:05: 1-on-1 tackling drill

3:10: Special teams, pass-blocking drills, quarterback fundamental drills

3:20:3:45: 11-on-11 situational work

WHAT WE SAW

A heckuva pick by Ras-I Dowling down the left sideline on a pass intended for Aaron Hernandez. The ball was thrown by Brian Hoyer.

Jerod Mayo with a stout tackle on Aaron Hernandez in 1-on-1 tackling. Also, Shane Vereen accelerating around Bobby Carpenter and Julian Edelman juking Josh Barrett to the ground.

Converted defensive player Alex Silvestro making a catch in 11-on-11s.

A nice catch by Jessie Holley, followed by my saying, Hes not bad. And my friend Mary Paoletti saying, Liar. Thats the first good play hes made.

Kyle Love down for a stretch and then being helped to the sidelines after what appeared to be an eye injury.

Tom Brady going 14-for-21 in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills.

Tackle Darrion Weems leaving practice after an apparent leg injury.

A too-many-men-on-the-field penalty on a field-goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski at the end of a hurry-up drive.
Several trick plays (were not allowed to divulge the nature of said plays. Sorry).

Gronk getting yelled at to get on the field for a kickoff drill.

Chandler Jones pursuit of a scrambling Brian Hoyer on a slow-developing screen.

Brandon Lloyd and Jabar Gaffney standing in the end zone catching deep balls from all three quarterbacks. And Lloyd giving a little surreptitious wave to some kids who kept yelling his name.

Brady getting agitated at Donald Thomas during 11-on-11s.

James Ihedigbo and Matt Slater out of their red jerseys.

WHOS HOT

Shane Vereen. He appears to be coming around after a slow start to camp.

Devin McCourty. Hes been very good in press coverage when asked to do that a weak point in 2011.

Aaron Hernandez. Generally catching everything thrown to him.

WHOS NOT

Brandon Deaderick seems to take a lap every practice for some infraction.

WHAT THEY SAID

Weve got a long way to go. Weve got a long way to go. Weve got a lot of practices, a lot of meetings; weve got four preseason games. Weve got a lot of work ahead of us and were nowhere where we need to be here, but thats why were coming out and practicing every day. Like I said, were not taking anything for granted, were trying to come out and string practices together. We had a good one today and weve got to come out and have a good one tomorrow. Tom Brady on meshing with the offensive line.

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."