Curran: Steelers feast on weak Patriots secondary

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Curran: Steelers feast on weak Patriots secondary

PITTSBURGH Candor was going to be in short supply in the Patriots locker room Sunday evening.

So instead of going in there to be served the simple pablum of gotta look at the film and gotta play better and they did some good things out there and we have a lot of work to do, I chose to go to the Steelers locker room.

In there, I hoped, insight into what exactly the Patriots were attempting to do on defense might be gained. It was easy to see what they werent doing: Covering eligible receivers. But what appeared to be their plan?

I didnt even get to their locker room before I was getting answers. Hines Ward, who didnt play on Sunday because of an ankle injury, laid it out for me in the hallway outside the Steelers locker room.

Offensively, it felt like we could spread the ball out and we didnt have to take shots down the field, Ward explained. We felt like our wide-receiver corps could take advantage of the secondary. Considering they didnt really have a huge pass rusher, it gave us time to go spread. It was a great game plan and we just executed.

Last years 39-26 Patriots win was the catalyst for Sundays game plan laid out by Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

We watched the game last year and that game could have been closer than it was, said Ward. It was more what we were doing than what they were doing. We felt like, especially with Leigh Bodden, when we found out he wasnt there, with our wide-receivers corps, thats probably the strength of our team in terms of having depth. We felt like we could exploit and take advantage of the secondary coverage.

Exploit would be an understatement.

From the first drive, when tight end Heath Miller was allowed to roam free in the yawning space between the blitzing Patriots front and the deep-dropping secondary, the Patriots were maddeningly ineffective, especially on third down.

The Steelers converted a third-and-11, a third-and-12 and a third-and-15 during the day as part of a game in which they went 10-for-16 on third down and Ben Roethlisberger put it in the air 50 times.

Going into the game, everybody had success throwing the ball against them because those guys were 32 (in the league against the pass), explained Mike Wallace. Some of it was because of those guys running up the score and teams trying to catch up (and gaining yards) but you still dont get there, last (in the league against the pass), by just blowing people out. Other people had success against them.

The bulk of the success against the Patriots came in the first three games. They seemed to settle down against Oakland and neither the Jets nor the Cowboys did enough to challenge a secondary that seemed ripe for abuse.

The Steelers carried no such illusions about the Patriots secondary being a daunting group. The Patriots strategy of blitzing Roethlisberger, playing deep zone coverage and making the Steelers think their way down the field blew up in their faces.

"We knew we had a great matchup and that theyd play zone coverage and give us an opportunity to hit em across the middle," said wide receiver Antonio Brown. "Heath Miller did a great job getting open across the middle, we did a great job of converting third downs and controlling the ball.

I think they just wanted to blitz Ben. Get Ben confused and thinking the younger guys wouldnt be on point with the hots (hot routes that are broken off when blitzes are sent). I think that was their aim and I think we did a great job counteracting that. They played zone coverage (because they were) scared that Mike Wallace was gonna get deep. That allowed us to get the middle open and make some big plays on third down.

Aside from the scheme, though, there seemed to be a matter of poor communication in the zones. Safeties could be seen gesturing after plays to each other trying to figure who missed a read. Often, it seemed there were defenders leaving receivers to go cover targets who were already being attended to. The 7-yard Antonio Brown touchdown was a perfect example where two defenders were bird-dogging Wallace and Brown was left completely alone.

And the tackling? Still woeful.

Patriots safety Patrick Chung tried to keep a stiff upper lip after the game, saying, We gotta keep playing. Whatever coach Bill Belichick wants to do, well do. Were a good football team, Im not worried about all that stuff.

The release of Bodden on Friday and this performance Sunday really underscores how weak the Patriots are at corner. Antwaun Molden, who got most of the early reps that were normally Boddens, was benched. Devin McCourty continues to struggle, this time with tackling. Its an alarming spot to be in entering the eighth week of the year.

The Patriots better adapt and do so quickly, because after Sundays performance, any offensive coordinator who doesnt attack the New England secondary is plainly not doing his job.

Colin Kaepernick will sit through anthem until there's change

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Colin Kaepernick will sit through anthem until there's change

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Defiant, and determined to be a conduit for U.S. change, Colin Kaepernick plans to sit through the national anthem for as long as he feels is appropriate and until he sees significant progress in America - specifically when it comes to race relations.

He knows he could be cut by San Francisco for this stand. Criticized, ostracized, and he'll go it all alone if need be.

The quarterback realizes he might be treated poorly in some road cities, and he's ready for that, too, saying he's not overly concerned about his safety, but "if something happens that's only proving my point."

"I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed," Kaepernick said Sunday at his locker. "To me this is something that has to change. When there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."

Two days after he refused to stand for the "The Star Spangled Banner" before the 49ers' preseason loss to the Packers, Kaepernick insists whatever the consequences, he will know "I did what's right." He said he hasn't heard from the NFL or anyone else about his actions - and it won't matter if he does.

"No one's tried to quiet me and, to be honest, it's not something I'm going to be quiet about," he said. "I'm going to speak the truth when I'm asked about it. This isn't for look. This isn't for publicity or anything like that. This is for people that don't have the voice. And this is for people that are being oppressed and need to have equal opportunities to be successful. To provide for families and not live in poor circumstances."

Letting his hair go au natural and sprinting between drills as usual, Kaepernick took the field Sunday with the 49ers as his stance drew chatter across NFL camps.

He explained his viewpoints to teammates in the morning, some agreeing with his message but not necessarily his method. Some said they know he has offended his countrymen, others didn't even know what he had done.

"Every guy on this team is entitled to their opinion. We're all grown men," linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.

"I agree with what he did, but not in the way he did it," wideout Torrey Smith said. "That's not for me. He has that right. Soldiers have died for his right to do exactly what he did. ... I know he's taken a lot of heat for it. He understands that when you do something like that it does offend a lot of people."

Both Bowman and Smith are African American.

Kaepernick criticized presidential candidates Donald Trump ("openly racist") and Hillary Clinton;" called out police brutality against minorities; and pushed for accountability of public officials.

"You can become a cop in six months and don't have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist," Kaepernick said. "That's insane. Someone that's holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us."

In college at Nevada, Kaepernick said, police were called one day "because we were the only black people in that neighborhood." Officers entered without knocking and drew guns on him and his teammates and roommates as they were moving their belongings, he said.

He said his stand is not against men and women in the military fighting and losing their lives for Americans' rights and freedoms.

Kaepernick, whose hair had been in cornrows during training camp, sat on the bench during Friday's national anthem at Levi's Stadium. Giants wideout Victor Cruz and Bills coach Rex Ryan said standing for the anthem shows respect.

"There's a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality," said Kaepernick, whose adoptive parents are Caucasian. "There's people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That's not right. That's not right by anyone's standards."

On Sunday, he stopped briefly on a side field to talk with Dr. Harry Edwards and they shared a quick embrace before the quarterback grabbed his helmet and took the field. Edwards is a sociologist and African-American activist who helped plan the "Olympic Project for Human Rights" before the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, where U.S. sprinters and medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads through the anthem on the medal podium in their black power protest.

After swirling trade talks all offseason following Kaepernick's three surgeries and sub-par 2015 season, he has done everything so far but play good football - and he doesn't plan for this to be a distraction.

Coach Chip Kelly did not speak to the media Sunday. He said Saturday he still hasn't decided on his starting quarterback in a competition between Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert, who took over the job from Kaepernick last November and has vowed to be the No. 1 again.

Kaepernick hasn't stood for the anthem in any of the team's three preseason games "and I don't see it as going about it the wrong way."

"That's his right as a citizen," Kelly said. "We recognize his right as an individual to choose to participate or not participate in the national anthem."

Now, Kaepernick is prepared for whatever comes next.

"I think there's a lot of consequences that come along with this. There's a lot of people that don't want to have this conversation," he said. "They're scared they might lose their job. Or they might not get the endorsements. They might not to be treated the same way. Those are things I'm prepared to handle. ...

"At this point, I've been blessed to be able to get this far and have the privilege of being able to be in the NFL, making the kind of money I make and enjoy luxuries like that. I can't look in the mirror and see people dying on the street that should have the same opportunities that I've had."

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

Has Brissett removed Patriots' need for veteran quarterback help?

FOXBORO – Talked to Jacoby Brissett on Sunday. His session with the media was as efficient and frills-free as his Friday night performance against the Carolina Panthers.

Brissett, the third-rounder From NC State, keeps improving. From 7-for-13 for 63 yards in the first game of the preseason to 9-for-13 for 87 yards Week 2 to a 9-for-9, 85-yard, one touchdown performance against Carolina.

He’s completed all manner of passes – inside, outside, checkdowns, tight windows – and looked preternaturally comfortable doing so.

Maybe I have a little recency bias working, but I don’t recall a drafted quarterback looking as poised and in command in his rookie preseason as Brissett has so far. Jimmy Garoppolo may have had more impressive game-by-game numbers, but Brissett oozes composure that that I don’t think Garoppolo matched.

Encircled by a media horde Sunday, Brissett was pleasant and perfunctory when asked about his performance.

“Definitely it was progress,” he said, adding that he’s, "still learning. I’m sure I’ll be learning until I leave here."

 Even though he was 9-for-9, Brissett said that watching film he could see “things you messed up on and could have done better.”

Asked for an example, Brissett talk about speed. At the line of scrimmage, going through progressions and delivering the ball, Brissett said all of it can improve.

The interesting question the Patriots face now is whether they are prepared to allow Brissett to be the lone backup to the still relatively green Garoppolo. Or does the team need an experienced backup to call on if Jimmy melts down?

Thursday night could be a telling evening for that. With Garoppolo unlikely to play a ton so the team can make sure he’s good to go for the opener, it comes down to who benefits more from reps against the Giants, Tom Brady or Brissett?

It shouldn’t be close. Brissett needs the reps.

Meanwhile, we made mention of Brissett’s relationship with Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells after he was drafted and I figured revisiting that on Sunday wouldn’t hurt.

Brissett said he’s circled up with Parcells “here and there” but smiled knowingly and said, “He’s not the head coach here so you kinda need to listen to what your coach here is saying.”

Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

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Ex-Patriot Ridley signs with Colts

After being cut from the Detriot Lions last week, Stevan Ridely has signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

The running back played for the Patriots for four seasons (2011-2014), averaging 4.3 yards per carry while scoring 22 touchdowns in 52 games. He only played in six game in his final year with New England as a result of a torn ACL and MCL.

Ridley played for the AFC-East rival New York Jets in 2015 with a limited role in the nine games he played.