Patriots to visit with Andre Gurode

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Patriots to visit with Andre Gurode

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran So Albert Haynesworth tried to put out a non-existent fire on Andre Gurode's head a few years back? Not Bill Belichick's problem. "Just trying to make the football team better," will be the inevitable response if a planned visit with Gurode comes to pass and the former Dallas Pro Bowler is signed to beef up the interior of the Patriots' offensive line. To Bill, what happens in Tennessee stays in Tennessee. Or Washington. Or wherever something untoward occurred with a current Patriot at a former address. Stick around long enough and you see that the impossible becomes the inevitable where Belichick is concerned. When I saw that Gurode was in danger of being released by the Cowboys, I threw it out there that, "Center Andre Gurode appears to be on the outs in Dallas. Couldn't you just see Belichick signing him?"Who quotes himself in his own story? Nostra-Thomas, baby. It was October of 2006 when Haynesworth took exception to Gurode going at his knees in a game between the Cowboys and Titans. Haynesworth pried the helmet off Gurode and stepped on his head. The ensuing wound meant 30 stitches for Gurode and a five-game suspension for Haynesworth. The two buried the hatchet days later with Gurode saying, "He called me, we spoke on the phone and that was pretty much it. He just apologized. I don't really need a reason. You have to forgive a guy for doing something like that. Just move on and play football." Immediately after the game, Haynesworth said, "For what I did, whatever they give me, I deserve it. I did it, and it's wrong."Let's look at this visit (Gurode won't work out; he had knee surgery in June) on another level. How does it sit with Haynesworth? He knows the interaction between he and Gurode if Gurode signs is going to be a source of intense curiosity. How can it not be? And he also knows that it dredges up an ugly moment from five years ago he will face questions about all over again. While Belichick wouldn't have Gurode in for a looksee if he was an absolute stiff, the fact Belichick will ponder a move that could make Haynesworth's life uncomfortable is further evidence that Belichick's concern is having the best players available on his football team. In Gurode's case, you find out if he's healthy and can help. Then you worry about any other issues later. One can presume that Gurode knows Haynesworth is here and that he could have declined the invitation if he wanted to. And one can also presume that Belichick will ask whether being in the same locker room with Haynesworth poses an issue. Hell, he might have already given Haynesworth a heads-up it. Not asking permission, just letting him know.Football-wise, the 32-year-old Gurode is a five-time Pro Bowler who was due to make 5.5 million with the Cowboys in 2011. Dallas was remaking their line and going young. Gurode, who didn't practice in the first three weeks of camp, was a money and age decision. He's got versatility and can play either center or guard. Currently, the Patriots are thin at the right guard spot with an injury to Dan Connolly. Gurode could also be a backup to Dan Koppen. 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."