Curran: Ocho, Albert release rumor senseless


Curran: Ocho, Albert release rumor senseless

By Tom E. Curran Patriots InsiderFollow @tomecurran
On Sunday, I asked someone who ought to know what they thought of the rumor that Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco might be released by the Patriots before the season. "Right. And Michael Vick is coming in for a tryout."Before we get to the seeming absurdity of the OchoAlbert rumor itself, let's look at why these things bubble up. First, the Patriots have standing. They are in the front of people's minds. They are discussed in conversations between reporters and league sources because they are compelling. Those conversations generate conjecture. Second, Bill Belichick does make wacky, unforeseen personnel decisions with some regularity. Where do we want to start? Lawyer Milloy cut? Rodney Harrison signed? Randy Moss traded for? Randy Moss traded away? Richard Seymour? You can come up with any eventuality and -- no matter how far-fetched -- it has to be deemed possible because precedent says far-fetched things occur. Finally, the Patriots are so good at keeping their business in-house any crumbs of information that drop from the table are hungrily attacked with an "Ah-HA!" mindset. Because of reason No. 2 (the "anything's possible" notion) and reason No. 1 (people give a crap about the Patriots), there's not a lot of deep analysis that goes into these rumors when they break. They spread virally in a wave and, after the initial wave has crashed, then comes the effort to poke holes in the veracity of it. That's where I come in. Mike Felger has taken to calling me The Great Debunker because I debunk. That process now begins: 1. Love Dan Pompei, the man who reported that there's an executive out therethat expects Ocho and Albert to be released. Pompei is a very hard worker. Smart. Knows the game. It's important to understand that, in this instance, Pompei is the conduit through which a source provided an opinion. That opinion belonged to "one NFL executive familiar with the Patriots ways." Knowing Dan, he's going to be judicious in whose opinion he cites. But trusted, veteran football men have bad opinions. That's why JaMarcus Russell was drafted No. 1 overall, Tim Tebow was taken 25th and Tom Brady was taken 199th. And, since Bill Belichick has been in New England since 2000 and in the NFL since 1975, there are hundreds of NFL executives who are by now familiar with the Patriots ways. Pompei happened to speak to one who believed these players would be released. There's no doubt a few more that believe they will be retained. 2. The executive's logic makes no sense. To wit: "The front office man thinks coach Bill Belichick will use the controversial players to help control and send a message to his locker room."
Belichick doesn't currently have a locker room begging for control. This team is a nice blend of veterans and young players. Its superstars and highest-paid players are on board. A lot of the younger guys are damn happy to be in key spots on a great team seeing as they were either ovelooked or damaged goods coming out of college. Players like Danny Woodhead, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski, Gary Guyton, Kyle Arrington, Rob Ninkovich and Mike Wright. These key guys are not about to be led down the primrose path of malingering, insubordination and reality shows by Ocho and Albert. Sorry. 3. Releasing either player makes no sense financially or football-wise. Cutting Ochocinco would be a waste of 5 million and two draft picks. That doesn't feel like solid business right there. Additionally, the guy clearly has plenty left in the tank athletically and is working his ass off.
As for Albert, yes he's been in the shop. Yes, there's little financial risk if they jettison him. But when he's been on the field he's been a wrecking ball. Belichick is not going to look at the devastation Haynesworth can wreak in his 4-3 defense, shrug and then cut Haynesworth to prove a point. Not after the way last season ended. Effort has been expended on Haynesworth. Promise was shown. Expectations are there. He will be too.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at 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 . . . 


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. 


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."


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."