Brady: Patriots 'don't take days off'

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Brady: Patriots 'don't take days off'

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

FOXBORO - You could tell on Friday morning that Tom Brady really wasn't fired up to stand at the podium and answer questions with the media. But he warmed to the conversation. And one of the most interesting parts was when he explained - urgently - why it's wrongheaded to think the Patriots should just sit their key guys this weekend against the Dolphins. "We're playing," he stated. "That's just the way it is. I don't get into a lot of evaluation why. It's a football game. I'm the starting quarterback on this team so I'll play. I know the other guys take the same approach. I don't think we approach this weekend any differently."When asked a question about overall improvement during this season, Brady used that to circle back to his point about playing this week. "Whatever we do this week will certainly help us down the road," he stated. "That's why we need to be good this week. I don't think you can sit here and say this week's not important. Like this week. We can't say, 'Well, let's just go out there and rest for a week.' Well, how we gonna get better then? We gotta get better today. We got better yesterday. We got better Wednesday. We're gonna have a better team this Sunday and that will certainly help us down the road.
"That's really been a trademark of this team, to make improvements during the season. I don't think we take weeks off.I don't think we take days off. We're always trying to get better." Brady looked at the mental side of dealing with his receivers on Friday morning. After discussing how he deals with Wes Welker when the veteran receiver drops a pass (as he's done on a number ofoccasions this year), Brady talked about Julian Edelman and how he helps the second-year wideout deal with his slide into disuse. "Julian, if anything, he presses maybe too hard," said Brady. "He's very hard on himself, very critical of himself all the time and sometimes I think some players beat themselves up and Julian's one of those guys because he wants to do it so right. He's done an incredible job in that transition to receiver from college quarterback.A lot of learning needs to take place for that transition. Nobody works harder than Julian. He fits right in with that receiver group with Deion Branch and Wes . . . He's a great asset to this team."Asked if he counsels Edelman, who's had a number of drops as well this year, Brady said, "All the time. You always want to see your teammates do well. Dropped balls, they come up. Quarterbacks throw interceptions. Running backs fumble. O-linemen get beat and give up sacks. What do you do going forward? If you can eliminate those mistakes going forward that's important, because you can overcomeone mistake but you can't overcomethree orfour mistakes. And if that one mistake leads to three or four mistakes, that's how you lose games." Earlier in his session, Brady was asked about Welker coming to the Patriots. He said he was "certainly intrigued by him" and that he remembered pushing then-GM Scott Pioli to get Welker when his contract expired. Brady also talked about how he deals with a veteran letting him down as opposed to a younger player. "There's a certain level of respect for veteran players where you don't yell at them like you yell at a rookie," Brady explained. "You try to help a rookie understand the importance of what's going on. And why drops can't happen. How route definition needs to be better.
"With a veteran like Wes, he knows the importance. He knows what he has to do. A lot of it is just trying to encourage. Sometimes you can get under his skin a little bit. I like to feel like I'm in command out there, so I make sure they all know that this is what they're trying to accomplish."

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

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."