McCourty: Patriots focused on taking away deep ball

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McCourty: Patriots focused on taking away deep ball

FOXBORO -- Priority No. 1 for the Patriots secondary this week? Get back.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco burned the Broncos in their AFC Divisional Round win with a 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones to tie the score in the game's final moments. He also connected with receiver Torrey Smith on touchdown passes of 59 and 32 yards.

Patriots safety Devin McCourty said on Thursday that guarding against those big plays is a big concern for New England's secondary as they prepare to host Flacco and the Ravens in the AFC Championship game on Sunday.

"As all of us as a secondary, we have to realize it's our job to take away those deep passes," McCourty said. "We can't allow them to just throw the ball over our heads so I think all of us have to have that mentality and understand what we're trying to do.

"And I think the biggest thing is that we understand how strong Flacco's arm is because we already know how fast some of their receivers are over there."

Smith is the team's top deep threat. He had six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 win over the Patriots, and last week torched one of the NFL's best cornerbacks in Denver's Champ Bailey for 98 yards on three catches.

"He's a fast guy," McCourty said of Smith. "That's not to say he's not physical at all, but I think one of his biggest strengths is his speed. If you give him a step or two, it can turn into three or four. You just have to be aware of how fast he is."

Flacco's other go-to wideout is Anquan Boldin. At 32 years old, and standing at 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, he doesn't have the speed of Jones or Smith, but he is a physical presence in intermediate routes and in the running game.

Back in Week 3, McCourty was dealing with Baltimore's receivers as a cornerback. Since cornerback Aqib Talib was acquired in a trade, McCourty has moved to safety and the Patriots defense has cut down on the number of big plays it has allowed.

According to ESPN, in nine games before Talib's arrival, the Patriots allowed 62 pass plays of 20 yards or more. Since then, in eight games, the team has allowed 40 such plays.

"Playing safety, I think you kind of have to be accountable for the whole defense and the coverage as a whole because so much of the communication will be between those two safeties," McCourty said. "Letting the corners know, letting the linebackers know what we're doing, what coverages we're playing and different things like that. Being a captain and a safety, I think a lot of the communication falls on me, and whoever else is playing that other safety."

One of the biggest messages they'll be communicating throughout this week and into Sunday's game: Don't get beat deep.

Blakely: Ainge's patience may hand Celtics a double payoff

Blakely: Ainge's patience may hand Celtics a double payoff

BOSTON -- When it comes to public opinion, Danny Ainge has never been one to be consumed by it or let it trickle into a decision he was thinking about for the roster.
 
So you can understand why the "What are they doing?" cries from Celtics Nation when he traded away the No. 1 overall pick earlier this month never resonated with him.

MORE ON GEORGE/HAYWARD


And you can understand why Ainge, when the Chicago Bulls became serious about moving Jimmy Butler on draft night, never put forth a competitive offer even though he had more than enough trade chips to do so.
 
He has patiently waited for his vault full of assets to increase, like blue-chip stocks, to a point where they had real value to a team open to moving a superstar talent to Boston.
 
That time appears to be now, with the Celtics well-positioned to add not one but two All-Stars in Utah’s Gordon Hayward and Indiana’s Paul George.
 
The Celts are pursuing both simultaneously, knowing they have to secure Hayward first in order to arrange to have enough salary-cap space to make a trade with the Pacers for George.
 
Not surprisingly, the first move in this 1-2 step is the hardest.
 
Boston will have to convince Hayward, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler and was named to his first All-Star team in February, to bypass an extra year and about $40 million --- which he could get by staying in Utah -- to sign here. The advantage the C's have, in addition to the lure of playing for his ex-college coach, is that the path towards the NBA Finals is a lot more realistic with them than with the Jazz, who are on the rise but not quite close enough to where they are a legitimate threat to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are coming off a season in which they finished with the best record in the East and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. They also return the core from last year's team, led by two-time All-Star Isaiah Thomas.
 
It’s likely that at least one member of the team’s core will be included in a trade for George, a pending free agent whose representatives informed the Pacers he was not going to sign a long-term contract with Indiana and that his preferred destination for 2018-19 (and beyond) was his hometown Los Angeles Lakers.
 
The Lakers don't have the kind of assets the Pacers are hoping to secure for their four-time All-Star. The Celtics, however, are in position to potentially overpay for George and not have it devastate their growth in both the short and long term. They also feel that once they get him here, they can convince him to stay . . . and, indeed, some people in George's camp feel Boston is a better landing spot than Los Angeles.
 
However, the key in all this is Hayward, who will also get a strong pitch from the Miami Heat.
 
Complicating this even further for the Celtics has been the salary cap coming in at just $99 million as opposed to what most anticipated would be a couple million dollars more.
 
“It is hard,” Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, told CSN’s Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely recently regarding the salary cap for this season. “With the cap going down, it’s a little bit of a jolt. It doesn’t seem like a lot and every team has to deal with this. But we were planning pretty close to the dollar, to have a good team this year but to max cap space flexibility going into the offseason.”

In order for the Celtics to pull this off, it likely means they will have to part ways with at least one of their core players to ensure there’s enough cap space.
 
But considering what they could look like roster-wise on opening night, having to trade a player because of the decreased salary cap is the kind of the collateral damage that the C's can live with.

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Morning Skate: Not a dry eye as Canucks draftee gets the call

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready to check out GLOW on Netflix.

*This video of a Vancouver Canucks draft pick tearing up while watching the video of his brother celebrating him getting picked is all that is right with the NHL Draft.  

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Adrian Dater has Avs first-round pick Cale Makar talking about his hockey background, and why it doesn’t matter.

*The Calgary Flames are excited about their prospects and the pieces they were able to acquire last weekend.

*The Washington Capitals have re-signed Brett Connolly for a couple of years at short money and he appears to have found a home in DC.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are still in talks with Marian Hossa about how to resolve his contract and the allergic skin condition that might have prematurely ended his hockey career.

*Will the Tampa Bay sports go through a dry spell when it comes to Hall of Fame athletes now that former Lighting forward Dave Andreychuk has been called to the Hockey Hall?

*It looks like young Pierre Luc Dubois will be put in a position to contribute with the Columbus Blue Jackets this season.

*Alex Prewitt has a preview of the NHL free agency period and the stress levels that many players go through in it.

*For something completely different: This video of Drake and Will Ferrell hoop handshakes was pretty solid, and funny.