Patriots pledge to stay in shape if locked out

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Patriots pledge to stay in shape if locked out

By TomE. Curran
CSNNE.com
BOSTON -- Tom Brady has agreed to be one of four player-plaintiffs against theowners if this labor mess ever gets to court.
But one of the stickier decisions for Brady -- and for all players facing this work stoppage right now -- is deciding between the game of football and the business of football. Winning a lawsuit or a negotiation could probably never excitea player'ssenses the way winning a single game can. The game and the competition are in the players' DNA.Yet if the players really want to make the owners (and coaches) sweat, they need to show they can wait out a work stoppage over the long haul. "Lock us out? Fine. But we aren't taking less money than we make right now and we'll just wait until you see we're serious."Conducting player-organized workouts during a lockout isn't going to give the owners that vibe. The owners think the players will cave because, well, they always have.The rank-and-file guys who don't have millions socked away (and that's most of the league) need the paycheck. But there's that other dynamic at play here, too. The need to compete, to be a "football player." The need to work a craft that's been a way of life since, for many, the second grade. You know how we never believe guys when they say, "I'd play the game for free"?When it comes right down to it, some of them might just consider doing that.Houston Texans' offensive lineman Eric Winston talked to PFTLive recently and pointed out that any player injured during a lockout training session could land on the non-football injury list and miss out on his 2011 salary. To say nothing of the fact they may be running, lifting and preparing for free when they are normally paid to do so. Thursday, during a charity appearance at Children's Hospital in Boston, several Patriots spoke of their very serious intention to stay in shape and prepare for football during this lockout. Patriots All-Pro linebacker Jerod Mayo said he's all set with a DVR to watch game film and a Bowflex and treadmill in his basement. Asked about the disconnect between the union imploring players to not organize workouts and give the owners something for nothing, Mayo said, "I'm staying in shape, I'm telling you that. That's the mindset guys have. Stay in shape and wait for a phone call. It's personal preference what each player does but at the end of the day, I'm a football player."A football player in an excellent program. A program that is so cloistered and managed, the word of Bill Belichick is -- for most players -- going to trump that of Kevin Mawae or DeMaurice Smith. In aline of work where careers are short, players don't want to see a season wasted because they or their teammates aren't ready when the bell rings.Andcan any marginal playerthat does jack squat during the lockout and shows up out of shape and unprepared expect to make it past the first round of cuts? Probably not. "This is football, this is what I do," said Rob Ninkovich. "What they tell us to do, I do. I'm always gonna be working out. I'll be working out every day. When the season starts, I'll be ready to roll." Think about it. Tom Brady, Terrell Suggsand Antonio Cromartie are on the same team during this lockout. But the second it ends, they return to being adversaries. The players that remember thatand show a unified front whilestill preparing to kick the other guy's behind will be the teams that are successful in 2011. "I'm gonna be prepared," promised Leigh Bodden. "That's all I can do, is be prepared myself. The guys are gonna do what they're gonna do. I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna prepare myself in any way possible to make myself the best player when things hopefully do get worked out." Tom E. Curran canbe 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."