No huddle: Slater on special teams, Brady, the Bills

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No huddle: Slater on special teams, Brady, the Bills

By Mary Paoletti
CSNNE.com Staff Reporter Follow @mary_paoletti
FOXBORO -- The Patriots are all aware of that 15-0 winning streak against Buffalo. But according to special teams captain Matthew Slater, nobody in New England's locker room is looking to throw a party about it.

"The Bills are always going to be amped because it's a big division game," he said. "They're 2-0 and they're at home, and they're going to have their crowd behind them. This is a big game for them and a big game for us, so we have to approach it as such.

"We have to have a good week of preparation and we can't take these guys lightly. What's in the past is in the past. Winning streak . . . that doesn't mean anything. These guys are a good football team."

Slater isn't surprised Buffalo is getting it done without a group of big name players. He says it's about good ol' fashioned effort.

"They play with tremendous effort, and they're very well coached, and they have players that buy into what they're trying to get done. That always makes them a handful for us."

Here's a few other topics Matthew Slater touched on during Wednesday's media scrum.
BRADY WAS NAMED AFC OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK AGAIN. WHAT'S THERE EVEN LEFT TO SAY? "When a guy's playing like that... how do you even explain it? I couldn't even get on the video game and put up those numbers, but I'm sure Tom would tell you the same thing -- anyone around here would tell you -- we've got to worry about this week. He's going to prepare and he's our leader, we look to him. He doesn't get caught up in what he did last week, he's worried about this week."

WHAT ARE YOU SEEING FROM BRAD SMITH, FORMER JET, NOW IN BUFFALO? "They use him in the same ways. He's a good player. We've got to be ready for him in two phases of the game. He can give us problems if we don't prepare for him."

HOW HAS BEING NAMED CAPTAIN CHANGED YOUR WORK WEEK? "More preparation, I guess. Just try to make sure I'm on things. If anybody has questions they can come to me with them. I've been trying to encourage these guys out there, but we have so many good players and veterans who've done it... It's been a blast playing with those guys and I think we're off to a good start, we've just got to keep it up."

CALLING COIN TOSS ON THE ROAD TOSS IS THE BEST PART, RIGHT? "No. Laughs I let the older guys do it. Just go out there and just try to continue to lead my group as best I can."
HOW'S YOUR SPECIAL TEAMS CORPS DONE OVER TWO WEEKS? "I think there's been some good and some bad. There's some areas we can improve upon. We played a little bit better last week. But it's about this week and it's going to be a test because Buffalo's always tough in the kicking game."
NOT TO BE MORBID, BUT IF ZOLTAN MESKO IS REALLY HURT..."There might be some changes with punting, but we've got to adapt. We're all professionals and we've got to be able to adjust to whatever happens out there. Injuries are obviously an unfortunate part of the game. But we're hoping and praying Zoltan's going to be okay, but if not, then we have to be ready to go."

Mary Paoletti can be reached at mpaoletti@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Mary on Twitter at http:twitter.comMary_Paoletti

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."