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Patriots have to man up to get their offense back in high gear

10.31.11 at 4:55 pm ET
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FOXBORO — It was pretty clear – and mildly surprising – to see one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL adjust his philosophy to stop Tom Brady and the NFL’s top offense on Sunday.

Dick LeBeau‘s game plan was obviously clear to Bill Belichick, too. Abandon the zone and go with almost exclusively man-to-man coverage across the board on the Patriots.

“They played us in man coverage,” Belichick said on Monday afternoon after watching the film of Sunday’s 25-17 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh. “It wasn’€™t anything that I would say we hadn’€™t really seen before, but probably a little higher percentage than what they’€™ve shown in other games. We worked on it. Again, we just have to do a better job in those situations ‘€“ protecting, getting open, having plays that maybe could make everything happen a little bit quicker, a little bit cleaner.”

But, Belichick wanted to make it clear that, publicly, he credits LeBeau and the Steelers for doing what it took to take the Patriots and hold them to their lowest point and yardage totals of the season.

“Again, I don’€™t want to get into that everything was a self-inflicted wound,” Belichick added. “I think they played well, I think they did a lot of things well. We had some plays, not as many as they did and that’€™s why the result was what it was. Obviously a competitive game that they outperformed us in.”

One game is not a trend but two games is the start of a habit the Patriots would like to avoid. The Patriots were fortunate to score 20 points in a 20-16 last-minute win over the Cowboys at Gillette, a Cowboys team that was smoked 34-7 Sunday night in Philly. Dallas held the Patriots in check for most of the game, using a lot of the same principles, man up on the receivers and allow the pass rushers to pressure Brady. DeMarcus Ware and company followed the game plan to a near upset.

Sunday, Brady was sacked three more times – understandable since the Patriots were forced to pass trailing by two scores in the second half. But when he’s had the time, Brady has appeared hesitant at times to throw deep.

There were just two deep balls even attempted, with both falling incomplete.

Brady under-threw Taylor Price on the first play of New England’s first offensive play of the fourth quarter. Then two plays later, Brady went deep over the middle, only to have Chad Ochocinco get tangled up by Keenan Lewis. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco, Dick LeBeau, New England Patriots

Andre Carter on M&M: ‘It was a circus’ for Patriots defense

10.31.11 at 1:45 pm ET
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Patriots defensive end Andre Carter made his weekly Patriots Monday appearance on the Mut & Merloni show from Gillette Stadium and talked about the defense’s frustration in trying to the stop the Steelers Sunday. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Steelers dominated time of possession, forcing the Patriots defense to stay on the field for long chunks at a time.

“It does wear and tear on you,” Carter acknowledged. “We’ve just got to go back from scratch and see what we did wrong.”

Added Carter: “It’s just unfortunate that we just pretty much got out-executed. We didn’t tackle well. I’m not sure as far as assignment-wise where we were on point, as far as communication. It was a circus.”

Carter said he expected the Steelers to run the ball more than they did, as Ben Roethlisberger controlled the game through the air instead.

“You have to expect the unexpected, don’t get me wrong, when you prepare for an opponent and you look at the game film week by week,” Carter said. “Of course, the mindset is, especially when it comes to the Steelers, OK, they’re going to pound the ball. They’re going to pound it, pound it, pound it. But that wasn’t the case. He threw the ball. And he was successful from it. He was pinpointing different offensive weapons. He spread the ball out well. He also made some great audible checks. He was dead-on.”

Read More: Andre Carter, Ben Roethlisberger,

Transcript of Tom Brady on D&C: ‘You don’t question decisions’ by Bill Belichick

10.31.11 at 11:50 am ET
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The Patriots came off the bye week and put up a stinker in Pittsburgh, struggling on both sides of the ball and dropping a 25-17 decision to the Steelers. In his weekly Monday morning interview with Dennis & Callahan, Tom Brady dissected the loss.

“We never could really play from ahead,” Brady said. “We never played with the balance that we needed. When you play the Steelers, you’ve got to be somewhat balanced. You’ve got to be able to run the ball efficiently. And then when you throw it, you’ve got to throw it on your terms. We were throwing it on their terms all day.

“They’ve got a good defense,” Brady added. “They have a great scheme. They have one of the best defensive coordinators of all-time [Dick LeBeau] and some incredible players on defense. Like I said, we’ve got to try to learn from it and go out there and play better this week.”

Following is a transcript of the conversation. To hear the interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Should we assume that what the Steelers defense did yesterday was at least to some degree unexpected by you and the offense — that is man-to-man coverage, press at the line of scrimmage and follow your receivers everywhere they went?

They do that. That’s part of their scheme. They probably did it a little more yesterday than they’ve done in the past. But there weren’t many looks out there that we didn’t prepare for or that we didn’t think they could do. It just really came down to our execution. We didn’t do enough on third down to stay on the field. We squandered some opportunities there. And when you play on the road against good teams, you don’t have much margin for error. We certainly made too many errors that allowed them to really control the tempo of the game, to control exactly how they wanted to play us. We never could really play on our terms.

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Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady

Boomer Esiason on D&C: Patriots are in trouble if they have to play on road in playoffs

10.31.11 at 9:33 am ET
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CBS Sports NFL analyst Boomer Esiason made his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to pick apart the Patriots’ 25-17 loss to the Steelers.

The Patriots struggled all day Sunday to stop the Pittsburgh offense, leading to a heavily lopsided time of possession for the Steelers (39:22) over the Patriots (20:38). The Patriots gave up a total of 427 net yards, while the New England offense struggled to keep up, gaining just 213 net yards.

Esiason said New England’s defensive struggles Sunday were a bad sign for the team looking toward the playoffs.

“Yesterday, watching them play and giving up 40 minutes of possession time to the Pittsburgh Steeler offense, I think was tell-tale that this team is going to be in trouble if they have to go on the road for the playoffs,” Esiason said. “You cannot win if you cannot get the ball back, and yesterday was indicative of that.”

Esiason also weighed in on one of coach Bill Belichick‘s more controversial decisions of the game. On second-and-9 with 4:15 remaining in the game and the Patriots trailing 23-10, Tom Brady appeared to throw a touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was ruled to have been stopped at the 1-yard line. Belichick chose not to challenge the play, and it took the Patriots until 2:40 left to score the touchdown.

Esiason said he thought the Patriots should have challenged the call, and because of Brady’s actions after the play, he thought the Patriots were going to challenge the call.

“I saw Tom at the line of scrimmage,” Esiason said. “They were going into their no-huddle offense, and Tom to me was kind of taking his time. … I thought he was taking his time, because I’m wondering if someone is in his helmet telling him, ‘We’re looking at this, we’re looking at this, we’re looking at this, we’re looking at it, don’t snap the ball right away.’ Because that’s what it seemed like to me.

“Even though they were at the line of scrimmage quickly, I think the down clock went under 10 seconds before he snapped the ball. The bad thing is CBS didn’t show a replay so I don’t know if they were showing replay in the stadium or not. But without question, that red flag should have come out.”

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Read More: Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Belichick, Eli Manning, Tom Brady

Key Moment: Steelers pick up a pair of big third-down conversions in the second half

10.30.11 at 7:55 pm ET
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Pittsburgh was able to convert most of their third-down opportunities on the afternoon against New England, picking up first downs on 10 of their 16 chances. However, the Steelers were able to convert a pair of third-and-long situations in the second half that turned out to be absolute killers and allowing Pittsburgh to keep a pair of drives alive.

The first came with Pittsburgh facing a 3rd and 15 situation with nine minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Steelers were able to pick up the first when Ben Roethlisberger hooked up with Emmanuel Sanders on a 17-yard pass play down the middle of the field. It allowed Pittsburgh to keep moving the chains on the sequence, a series that came to an end five plays later when Shaun Suisham connected on a 21-yard field goal to make it 20-10.

The second big conversion came with the Steelers in a 3rd and 12 with 1:32 left in the third quarter. On that one, Roethlisberger delivered a short pass over the middle to Antonio Brown for a 19-yard gain. The Steelers would cash in again later on the drive when Suisham again delivered, this time knocking home a 23-yarder early in the fourth to make it 23-10.

Read More: Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders, Shaun Suisham

Snap Judgments: Steelers 25, Patriots 17

10.30.11 at 7:25 pm ET
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In a game that was the definition of Not As Close As The Score Would Suggest, the Steelers dominated the Patriots statistically in almost every significant category on Sunday, riding a brilliant effort from Ben Roethlisberger to a 25-17 victory at Heinz Field. The Patriots fall to 5-2 on the season (and into a share of first place with the Bills) with the loss and host the Giants next Sunday at Gillette Stadium.


— The Steelers had a very clear game plan on offense from the start of the game: Throw, throw, throw. Roethlisberger (36-of-50 for 365 yards and two TDs) attacked an inept middle of the Patriots defense, picking on linebackers Gary Guyton, Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes early, connecting with Heath Miller four times for 55 yards on the opening TD drive. That set the tone for the defense, a group that — save for one throw — was shredded by Roethlisberger. Third downs were a killer, as the Steelers converted 10-of-15. Total yards? 448. First downs? 29. The Steelers had five drives of at least 10 plays. Make no mistake, this defense was exposed on Sunday. Just dreadful stuff.

— The combo of James Ihedigbo and Antwaun Molden were to blame on a pair of Pittsburgh scores, failing to communicate on Melwede Moore’s first-quarter TD catch and Antonio Brown’s second-quarter score. Ihedigbo had a rough afternoon, getting beat by Miller on a couple of early catches and falling down on an Emmanuel Sanders 26-yard grab. Molden also had plenty of lowlights, blowing coverage on Brown on a 3rd-and-15 (17 yards) in the third quarter, keeping alive a drive that would eventually end in a Pittsburgh field goal. Could Leigh Bodden really be this bad?

Logan Mankins struggled (again, not having a season up to his standard), picking up a pair of first half-penalites. Both flags halted what appeared to be promising drives — particularly the first penalty (false start), which put the Patriots, in Pittsburgh territory, in a 1st-and-15 hole on their second drive (the drive would end in a punt). Mankins also whiffed on LaMarr Woodley’s first sack of Brady. Other lowlights from the offensive line? Sebastian Vollmer manhandled by Woodley on another sack (as well as being flagged for a false start at the Pittsburgh 3 in the fourth quarter) and Matt Light collecting a false start in the fourth quarter, five yards that cost the Patriots field position in a series that ended with the missed Gostkowksi field goal.

— Nice to see Kevin Faulk back and in the mix, but BenJarvus Green-Ellis (five carries, nine yards) was a non-factor and Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley had no carries in a game that saw the Patriots rush for 43 yards.

—  Remember Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco? Once again, zero impact from either player. It’s almost incomprehensible that Kevin Faulk has contributed more to this team in 2011 than Ochocinco and Haynesworth combined.

— Following an Aaron Hernandez TD that cut the score to 23-17 with 2:35 left, the Patriots (with three timeouts and the two-minute warning left) elected to attempt an onside kick. Stephen Gostkowski couldn’t even advance the ball the required 10 yards, giving the Steelers the ball at the New England 37.


— Faulk, in his first game since Week 2 of 2010 (ACL injury vs. Jets), looked an awful lot like the Kevin Faulk we have seen over the last decade. He was the lead back throughout the game (was on the field on the opening drive) and was a factor in both scores. Faulk had a superb blitz pick-up of Ryan Mundy on Brady’s TD pass to Deion Branch, and his third-down direct snap rush put the Patriots in position for Gostkowski’s 46-yard field goal. Faulk posted 52 yards of total offense.

Andre Carter had his second two-sack game of the season (and second in three games), also forcing a Roethlisberger fumble. Max Starks was unable to contain Carter, who also had a couple of pressures on Roethlisberger.

— Guyton did have what appeared to be a crucial interception, picking off Roethlisberger and returning it to the Pittsburgh 8 with just under nine minutes left in the second quarter. Two plays later Brady connected with Branch and it was a 10-7 game.

Halftime analysis: Steelers 17, Patriots 10

10.30.11 at 5:42 pm ET
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After two quarters, the Steelers hold a 17-10 lead on the Patriots. Here are a few quick notes:

The Pittsburgh offense has dominated much of the first half as Ben Roethlisberger went 23-for-32 for 231 yards and two touchdowns. The Steelers put together three scoring drive of 10-plus plays each. Pittsburgh went 11 plays on their first series, with four catches for tight end Heath Miller. It was the first time all season that a tight end consistent got the better of New England — opposing tight ends came into the game averaging three catches for 39 yards. The Patriots, who were playing lots of zone in the secondary, appeared to suffer some breakdowns in coverage.

It was more of the same on the second drive, as the Steelers marched down the field at the end of the first quarter on a 16-play drive, but settled for a 33-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. Frankly, it looked an awful lot like the way New England had attacked the Steelers in the past — spread it out, lots of short passing, with only an occasional run mixed in to keep the opponent honest.

The Steelers launched another soul-killing drive on their final sequence of the first half, with the touchdown coming on a seven-yard pass play from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown. On that play (the culmination of a 10-play sequece), it appeared the corner Antwaun Molden dropped into a zone that was being covered by safety James Ihedigbo, freeing up space for Brown to opeate at the goal line to make it 17-7.

The Patriots offense went three-and-out on its first series, and didn’t get the ball back until the start of the second quarter. New England was able to get into Pittsburgh territory on its second drive, but a pair of nice back-to-back pressures by Lamarr Woodley (the second of which ended in a sack) forced the Patriots to punt the ball away again. The Patriots turned things around shortly after that as Roethlisberger delivered a pass right to Patriots linebacker Gary Guyton. New England cashed that in two plays later when Brady found Deion Branch on an out-and-up from two yards out to make it 10-7 with 8:24 left in the first half.

On its final drive of the half, the Patriots put together their first real consistent offensive sequence of the first half when Brady (who went 8-for-13 for 76 yards) engineered a 10-play, 52-yard sequence that took 2:12 and ended with a 46-yard field goal with 39 seconds left in the second quarter to make it 17-10 just before the end of the half.

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