Steelers defense not yet over the hill

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Steelers defense not yet over the hill

FOXBORO Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is 31 years old. At linebacker, you have James Harrison who is 33 and counting. Then there's linebacker James Farrior, who will be 37 years old if the Steelers managed to get to the Super Bowl this season.

This Pittsburgh defense may be low on young bodies, but it's loaded with experience.

That lack of youth was thought to be why the Steelers got off to a pedestrian 2-2 start.

Three weeks -- and three consecutive wins -- later, the Steelers look like a different team than the one on the field during the first month of the season.

All that talk about this once-dominant defense being past their prime? It's a thing of the past now.

"We don't pay attention to the elevator music; we really don't," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, in a not-so-veiled reference to the up-and-down perception of his team in the media. "That's stuff that they say. We stay focused on what it is, we're doing. And that's how we prepare, and hopefully that's how we play. We understand that we're going to be judged in forms and fashions based on our performance. But just that, it's based on our performance. We stay focused on our performance."

And lately, that form has been impressive with each of their last three wins coming by an average of 12.3 points per game.

In addition, Pittsburgh (5-2) comes into Sunday's game against New England with the NFL's No. 3 defense.

Although Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has a 6-1 record against Pittsburgh (4-1 in the regular season, 2-0 in the playoffs), he recognizes as much as anyone how good this team is defensively.

"They're very physical, they cover well, and they have continuity in their defense," Brady said. "They get after the quarterback, they really do. That's the hallmark of this defense - they rush the passer, they stop the run, they're a big physical defense that plays very hard and is very well coached. They don't make very many mental errors at all."

Of course, it also helps to have a versatile playmaker like strong safety Troy Polamalu who is third on the team in tackles (43) this season.

"He's very dangerous," said Pats coach Bill Belichick. "He's an impact player, very disruptive player. Defensively he fouls up a lot of things - blitzing, pass coverage, tackling, he's a hard hitter, knocks balls loose but he's around the ball a lot. He can get there in a hurry and when he gets there he can do a lot of damage. You have to be aware of him on every snap."

He's not alone, of course. Pittsburgh is giving up just 279 yards per game, and an NFL-low 171.9 through the air. Not bad for a bunch of old men, huh?

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger chuckles at the thought of his defense being over the hill.

"Just stay the course," he said. "We're too old -- quote, unquote old -- to really let that bother us or get to us. Most of us have been around and kind of understand what goes with the territory of this league and a team and we just kind of . . . stay the course."

Belichick: Brady-less Patriots ‘just really focused on Buffalo’

Belichick: Brady-less Patriots ‘just really focused on Buffalo’

FOXBORO -  A verrrrrryyyy long time ago, the Patriots targeted September. There were t-shirts and everything printed back in 2002 as the Patriots came off of their first Super Bowl title.

The names of that season’s first four opponents – Steelers, Jets, Chiefs and Chargers – were all listed on a bullseye.

How’d that work out? Well, they hit the bullseye for most of September, winning the first three. Then they lost four in a row and the notion of “targeting” a segment of the schedule around these parts went the way of the Dodo bird.

Which may be why, as truly remarkable as this September’s been, Bill Belichick isn’t taking any bows after three damn wins.

“We’re just really focused on Buffalo,” Belichick told me Friday morning when I asked about whether winning the first three in the face of some adversity was a point of pride. “I don’t really care about last week. I don’t really care about two weeks ago. I don’t really care about last year. I don’t really care about four years ago. I don’t really care. I think we’re just trying to get ready and compete against Buffalo. That’s our challenge this week.

“The rest of it – it’s in the books. It is what it is,” he said. “So write whatever you want to write about it. It’s good, it’s bad, I mean I don’t really care. It’s done. We’ve got to do a good job of what we have here with Buffalo. We can’t live in the past. And I respect where you’re coming from, I really do. It’s not like I’m trying to be dismissive of it, but I really don’t care. It doesn’t really matter. Nothing that happened last year, last week, last month really has anything to do with this week.”

Things change after Sunday. The best player the franchise has ever had rejoins a team that – in spite of the adversity – flourished without him. Even though the competition wasn’t what one would call “stiff” compared to challenges Brady faced as recently as last January, it’s still remarkable.

Asked about Brady’s looming return, wide receiver Julian Edelman also redirected.

“We got a game before that,” he pointed out. “When he comes back we'll obviously be happy but we got a job ahead of us with the Buffalo Bills.” 

Asked if there’s some pride taken in the beginning, Edelman replied, “It’s just having pride in your job in general. Really just focusing every week and trying to improve. I say it every week on these cameras, if you try to get better and you get better every week, you're gonna do these things. 

“It tells you that you have a mentally tough team that goes out there and works hard and prepares hard and does the extra things,” Edelman added. “I've been around here a little while and that's just the mentality we've always had and continue to have. We have a tough one against the Bills and we'll see how it tests out against these guys.”

 

 

Patriots-Bills injury report: Garoppolo, Brissett listed as questionable

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Patriots-Bills injury report: Garoppolo, Brissett listed as questionable

The inury report for Sunday's Patriots-Bills game:

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

QUESTIONABLE
QB Jacoby Brissett (right thumb)
OT Marcus Cannon (calf)
G Jonathan Cooper (foot)
LB Jonathan Freeny (shoulder)
QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder)
TE Rob Gronkowski (hamstring)
LB Dont'a Hightower (knee)
CB Eric Rowe (ankle)

BUFFALO BILLS

OUT
OL Cyrus Kouandjio (ankle)
OL Patrick Lewis (knee)
WR Greg Salas (groin)
WR Sammy Watkins (foot)

QUESTIONABLE
DB Colt Anderson (foot)
TE Charles Clay (knee)
DB Ronald Darby (hamstring)
OL Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder)
DB Jonathan Meeks (foot)
DB Aaron Williams (ankle)