Tough defensive decisions loom for Patriots

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Tough defensive decisions loom for Patriots

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - The Patriots four-man front to start the game Friday night had Shaun Ellis, Vince Wilfork, Albert Haynesworth and Andre Carter on the line. Soon after, it was Mike Wright, Gerard Warren, Haynesworth and Carter. As the night progressed, we saw Eric Moore in for Carter. Idle Friday night was Mark Anderson. In trying to get down to the 53-man roster limit by Saturday at 6, there are some hard decisions to make. These guys are good. And we're not even discussing the situational interior linemen the Patriots have like Myron Pryor, Darryl Richard or the injured Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick. Let's set the situation.

Mike Wright isn't going anywhere. He's an explosive, experienced end who -- when right -- is very, very good. I can't imagine Warren is going anywhere either because that inside tackle rotation of him, Ellis, Wilfork and Haynesworth is going to make opposing offenses have to think twice about trying to run between the tackles at all. Carter's explosion off the edge has been on display throughout the preseason.
Meanwhile, Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham seem safe because they can either play down and rush or drop in coverage because of their linebacking backgrounds. That opens zone-blitz possibilities where they drop and someone like Jerod Mayo fills in as the fifth pass-rusher. One of the edge guys will have to go and it seems a battle between Anderson and Moore is shaping up. In general, I think Moore anchors and sets the edge better than Anderson. Both have shown an ability to get past their man in 1-on-1 pass-rush situations. My guess would be Anderson goes. We'll see what Bill Belichick, Nick Caserio and Co., decide. But it's almost certain there will be an eye-opening release among the defensive linemenends. Too many good players and not enough spots.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

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Patriots-Steelers injury report: Seven Pats listed as questionable

FOXBORO -- The Patriots will head into Sunday's AFC title game with seven players listed as questionable, including three receivers. 

Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Chris Hogan have all been limited in practices this week due to their injuries. Amendola has been dealing with an ankle issue since a Week 13 win over the Rams, while Mitchell has not played since injuring his knee in Week 16 against the Jets. Hogan suffered a thigh injury against the Texans and left the game in the third quarter.

Both Hogan and Mitchell indicated this week that they were moving in the right direction in terms of their recoveries. One would think that the Patriots would need at least one, if not both, to help stress the back end of the Steelers secondary this weekend.

Hogan has been the team's most consistent down-the-field threat this season, averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch during the regular season. Against the Texans, before his injury, he reeled in four passes for 95 yards. 

Mitchell, meanwhile, had a very productive second half of his rookie season before he was hurt. He compiled 25 catches for 306 yards between Weeks 11 and 16, establishing himself as one of Tom Brady's go-to targets. 

The overall health of the Patriots receiving corps -- which will also include Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd -- will bear watching when the Patriots and Steelers kick off in two days.

The injury report for Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
WR Danny Amendola (ankle)
TE Martellus Bennett (knee)
RB Brandon Bolden (knee)
LB Dont'a Hightower (shoulder)
WR Chris Hogan (thigh)
WR Malcolm Mitchell (knee)
DL Jabaal Sheard (knee)

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

QUESTIONABLE
TE Ladarius Green (concussion/illness)
LB James Harrison (shoulder/triceps)
RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (concussion)

NOT LISTED
RB Le'Veon Bell (not injury related)
K Chris Boswell (illness)
LB Anthony Chickillo (ankle)
S Sean Davis (shoulder)
C B.J. Finney (illness)
WR Darrius Heyward-Bay (illness)
DE Ricardo Mathews (ankle)
QB Zach Mettenberger (illness)
S Michael Mitchell (not injury related)
QB Ben Roethlisberger (not injury related)
LB Vince Williams (shoulder)