Ex-Patriots LB Vrabel gets a trial run at stopping Brady

Ex-Patriots LB Vrabel gets a trial run at stopping Brady

As a player, Mike Vrabel was always the smartest guy in the room. Or on the field. Just ask him. But that confidence was well-founded because he was that player. Thus, Vrabel’s rapid rise in the coaching ranks - he’s now the defensive coordinator for the Houston Texans - was predictable for those who saw him make that same rise as a player in New England, where he went from Steelers castoff to cornerstone piece in a dynasty.

“Mike had a lot of great qualities as a player, so yeah, no surprise,” Bill Belichick said earlier this week. 

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“It won’t be long before he’s a head coach,” Tom Brady said. “He’s just got a great presence. He was a great player for us.”

“I think he’s doing a good job,” said Texans coach Bill O’Brien, himself a former Patriot staffer and offensive coordinator. “He’s very organized, detailed, works very hard. He’s got a great way with the players, so I think so far, so good.”

In his matter-of-fact way, Vrabel confirmed what Belichick, Brady and O’Brien said about him.

“I’m not cut out to do much other than play football and now coach football,” he said. “It took me nine years to graduate from Ohio State, if that tells you anything.”

Vrabel and Brady spoke for about 10 minutes following the Pats and Texans joint practice in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Wednesday, smiling, laughing and no doubt needling each other about who got the best of who in these sessions.

“He’s been one of my great friends for a long time,” said Brady. “It’s nice to see him out there. There’s a little friendly talk back and forth, which is always fun. I love the guy and what he’s accomplished.”

“Tom’s a phenomenal leader, a good friend,” Vrabel said. 

That friendship will have to be tabled in Week 3 of the regular season. That's the first time Vrabel will be the lead dog game-planning to stop Brady and the Pats offense. The former Ohio State standout and Buckeyes assistant coach spent the previous three seasons in Houston as a linebackers coach, but now as the defensive coordinator, the buck stops with him. 

“They beat our ass the last couple of times we’ve played them, so it’s been hard to sit over on the other sidelines, but I think to be able to practice against them and see them in somewhat of a relaxed setting, it’s great,” said Vrabel, reflecting on the joint practice. “Hopefully we can be a little bit more competitive this year against them.”

That won’t be easy. The Pats added explosive wideout Brandin Cooks, along with a couple of versatile backs in Rex Burkhead and Mike Gilislee. Mix that into an offense that was already at the head of the class, and you can see why Vrabel will probably have a few sleepless nights prior to that Sept. 24 meeting in Foxboro, especially after what he just saw in mid-August.

“Well, it’s as advertised,” he said. “There’s a lot of weapons, led by Tom [Brady]. Josh [McDaniels] calls a great game over there and it was good because nothing was scripted and we all kind of had to just come up with the calls on the fly and think fast, just like a game.”

Having the think the game and match wits with Brady, McDaniels, Belichick, etc, has overwhelmed many over the years, but to hear Belichick talk about his former charge, you understand Vrabel is different.

“He played a lot of positions on defense,” said Belichick. “He played everything in the kicking game and also did a lot for us on offense, playing tight end in short-yardage situations. He could call signals, he had great leadership, was a multi-year captain, so his leadership, his presence, his communication, awareness, situational awareness in addition to just being a good football player, but those things were traits that carried over into coaching. And Mike's one of the physically and mentally toughest players I’ve ever coached, so I’m sure that will serve him well in this profession, too. There are times when you need that.”

Like, say, when you’re trying to outthink the Pats game day braintrust? Save the date. That one should be fun.


 

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley explode in shootout win vs. 49ers

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Jared Goff, Todd Gurley explode in shootout win vs. 49ers

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns and Todd Gurley ran for two TDs and caught another to help the Los Angeles Rams put up another big offensive performance with a 41-39 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday night.

The NFL's lowest-scoring team last year looks like a completely different outfit this season under first-year coach Sean McVay thanks to vastly improved play by Goff after a rough rookie season as the No. 1 overall pick.

The Rams (2-1) have also been helped by the additions of receivers Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods and the play-calling of McVay as they have scored 107 points through three games. That's the second-most in franchise history, trailing only the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

All three of Goff's touchdown passes came on third down, including a 13-yard pass to Watkins early in the fourth quarter that gave Los Angeles a 41-26 lead.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.

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Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

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Boston Sports Tonight Podcast: Is there a blueprint to beat the Patriots?

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO THE PODCAST.

0:41 - Tom E. Curran breaks down the ‘blueprint’ to beat the Patriots and if the Texans have the talent to do it.

5:27 - Michael Holley and Kayce Smith discuss Kyrie Irving’s comments that he made on Early Edition about going back to Cleveland for the opening game. 

9:52 - We take a listen to what Malcolm Butler had to say about his role on the team and discuss how the cornerback keeps saying all the right things. 

15:18 - Michael McCann, Legal Analyst for Sports Illustrated joins BST to talk about Aaron Hernandez’s brain found to have CTE and his family now suing the NFL and the Patriots.