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The Steelers didn’t know what hit them in Foxboro on Sunday. Literally.
“The first drive hit us by surprise,” linebacker Bud Dupree said Monday, via Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “They came out firing and they caught us off guard. We were checking and they were checking at the same time. Hats off to that team. They had a great preparation.”
Dupree added that the Steelers were not expecting to see the no-huddle offense as much as they did.
“We didn’t really anticipate it like that,” Dupree said. “It was more in their approach to the no huddle, the checks they made right away. It was a great job by Tom Brady.”
Or it was not a great job of planning, preparation, and execution by the Pittsburgh defense.
As of last month, questions were being asked about New England’s reduced use of the no-huddle offense. Then came a Monday night game against the Ravens, during which the Patriots extensively employed a no-huddle approach to manhandle Pittsburgh’s top rival.
Regardless of whether the Steelers did or didn’t anticipate it, they failed to adapt to the circumstances. Coach Mike Tomlin admitted that it happened to the offense after the injury to Le’Veon Bell; it apparently also happened to the defense.
While Dupree surely didn’t intend to point a finger at coaching, his explanation points a finger generally toward a place where coaching is one of the reasons for the lack of preparation for a no-huddle attack and for the inability to adjust quickly on the fly to the tactics the Patriots were employing. Only so much of that failure can be blamed on execution; at some point, the quality of the coaching is called into question.
The Falcons will be practicing in Atlanta this week before heading to Houston for the final preparations before Super Bowl LI, but one of their starters may not be on the field.
Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reports that center Alex Mack is unlikely to practice this week due to “a swollen, painful sprained ankle.” Mack left the NFC Championship Game briefly because of the injury before returning to the lineup.
Rapoport adds that Mack is expected to be OK in time for the game, which is good news for a Falcons offense that benefitted from his arrival as a free agent last offseason. He was voted a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and anchored a line that improved over underwhelming performances in recent seasons.
Mack may not be the only player to take it easy this week. Wide receiver Julio Jones missed two days of practice last week because of the foot and toe injuries that have bothered him for a while and it’s a good bet that the Falcons won’t push him too far this week with so much time before the game.
In terms of Super Bowl experience, the Patriots have a big edge over the Falcons.
They won the title two years ago with many players who remain in prominent roles with this year’s team and it’s the seventh time that coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady are headed to football’s biggest game. The Falcons counter with five active players who have been on teams that went to the Super Bowl, although defensive tackle Joe Vellano was inactive for New England when they beat the Seahawks.
Coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator for that Seattle team and he had the same job when they won the previous year. He said Monday he plans to use those experiences to keep things as normal as possible for the team.
“It’s a big topic,” Quinn said, via ESPN.com. “I’ve gone when it’s gone well, and I’ve been a part of it when it hasn’t. And I just really want to kind of outline the keys to playing well in the game and managing some of the things on the outside. That’s part of the process that I can help share. … We’ve got a great process that we go through to get ready, and we’re not going to deviate from that.”
Quinn said he began work on logistics for a trip to Houston during the team’s Wild Card round bye because he saw a shift in the team that left him with the belief that the Falcons were “headed in the right area.” The team will have a regular practice schedule from Wednesday to Friday before heading to Texas on Sunday for the final week before the game.
It’s not just the players and coaching staff going to Houston next week, it’s the entire Falcons organization.
Via Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Falcons owner Arthur Blank is sending all of the team’s employees to Houston next week for Super Bowl LI.
“Football is the ultimate team sport and it goes way beyond the people you see on the field,” Falcons president Rich McKay said in a statement. “It takes a lot of people to operate a successful NFL team and the staff works very, very hard all year round. Arthur loves the associates and one of our core values is ‘Include Everyone.’ He wants those who have helped our team reach the Super Bowl to have the chance to see the game live in Houston.”
It’s not an unheard of move, as both Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson did the same last year.
But it’s still a nice perk for the 500 employees of the team, who get to ride along for an unexpected end-of-year bonus.
Bad judgment on social media isn’t the only concern the Steelers have about Antonio Brown.
The Steelers are also concerned that Brown is focused too much on his own personal statistics even at the Steelers’ expense, according to Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network.
According to the report, after DeAngelo Williams scored the Steelers’ first touchdown in the AFC Championship Game, Brown was pouting while the rest of his teammates were celebrating because Brown wanted the ball to go to him, not Williams, on the play. And that’s not new: Last year, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had to sit Brown down and tell him to stop chasing statistics, and that his only concern should be winning championships.
Brown is heading into the final year of his contract, and there’s been talk that the Steelers are planning to give him a raise on a new deal in the offseason. But if Brown really cares more about his stats than about winning, that may not be such a wise idea.
As potential NFL employees continue a three-month job interview process that includes plenty of free labor that allows NFL Network to generate cheap content during the slow months, a guy who lasted until the fourth round a year ago has some free advice.
“Senior Bowl is this week,” Prescott said Monday on Twitter. “DON’T TAKE A Meeting, Practice REP, or Walking Through the Lobby Lightly. You’re Being Evaluated.”
He’s absolutely right. And it applies well beyond Senior Bowl week. Everywhere the players go from now until their names are called at the draft, they’re being watched and evaluated. They should assume that every person they encounter eventually will report back to one or more teams on whether the player was rude, nice, profane, respectful, whatever.
Case in point: When players visit a team, the low-level employee who picks the player up at the airport and takes him to the facility is ALWAYS paying attention to what the player says and does. Amazingly, most incoming draft picks (and plenty of free agents) have no idea that this is happening.
Of course, none of this means that the evaluations will be accurate. Prescott still ended up being a fourth-round pick, going after the likes of Christian Hackenberg and Connor Cook. Still, for those players who are trying to maximize their draft stock, it’s critical to remember that, indeed, everyone is watching and evaluating — even if those doing the evaluations may not be as good at their jobs as they need to be.
It’s the first time that Zuttah will play in a Pro Bowl and the trip comes after his ninth NFL season. The last three of those years have been with the Ravens and Zuttah started every game for Baltimore in two of those three seasons.
He’s the third Raven added to the team since the team was initially announced, which leaves them with a net of +1 as Mosley and guard Marshal Yanda have both pulled out of the contest.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger spent some time wondering if playing in the AFC Championship Game “was almost too big for some of the young guys” on the roster in the wake of their 36-17 loss to the Patriots.
Their inexperience in the postseason isn’t where cornerback William Gay is looking in the wake of the loss. Gay said the reason for the Steelers’ loss was a pretty simple one, namely that the Patriots had a better game plan that they executed better than the Steelers could execute their own.
Gay does think that the taste of playoff action can benefit his younger teammates. He believes it will make them “hungry and determined” for more success next time and that they should focus on that rather than any criticism that might come their way.
“Don’t pay attention to it,” Gay said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s simple as that. Just don’t pay attention to it. … Football is like life. Everybody, I’m pretty sure all of you guys, go through trials and errors, and what do you do? You press forward, right? So age don’t have nothing to do with it.”
The Steelers defense had a hard time against the Patriots, but the unit made strides over the course of the season as younger players took on bigger roles in some spots. Using this loss as a springboard for further improvements in the offseason would be a good thing for Pittsburgh.
Greg Lewis wasn’t out of work long.
The former Eagles wide receivers coach, who was fired this offseason, has landed a job with the Chiefs, according to Alex Marvez of Sporting News.
The link is a natural one, since Lewis played six years for Chiefs coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia, after making the team as an undrafted rookie. He’s joining the team in Orlando this week, where they’ll prepare for the Pro Bowl.
He’s reportedly replacing David Culley, who is heading to Buffalo to join Sean McDermott’s staff as quarterbacks coach.
Lewis only got one year as a position coach with the Eagles, and didn’t have much to work with. He was replaced by former Bears and Rams assistant Mike Groh.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is already the owner of several Super Bowl records, and he’ll add to those records in Super Bowl LI. Here’s a look at the records Brady owns:
Games played: Brady and former Broncos and Bills defensive lineman Mike Lodish are tied for the most Super Bowls played, with six. Brady will play in No. 7 and have the record to himself after Super Bowl LI.
Super Bowl MVPs: Brady and former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana are the only players to win the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award three times. Brady could make it four against the Falcons.
Pass attempts: Brady already has the record at 247, and he’ll almost certainly have the record by more than 100 after Super Bowl LI: Peyton Manning is second in Super Bowl history, with 155 passes thrown.
Pass completions: Brady has the all-time record, with 164. Peyton Manning is again second, with 103. Brady also owns the Super Bowl records for completions in a game, with 37 in Super Bowl XLIX, and for consecutive completions, hitting 16 in a row in Super Bowl XLVI.
Passing yards: Brady owns the all-time record with 1,605. With a huge game he could reach 2,000 career yards in the Super Bowl; second is Kurt Warner, with 1,156 career Super Bowl yards.
Touchdown passes: Brady has thrown 13 touchdown passes, two more than second-place Joe Montana, who threw 11 touchdown passes in his four Super Bowls.
Put it all together, and Brady is 164-for-247 for 1,605 yards, with 13 touchdowns, in six Super Bowl games.
Former Bills will be on both sides of the Super Bowl matchup.
The Dolphins have drafted Senior Bowl participants in each of the last two years.
Last Sunday saw the Patriots offense in fine form.
The Jets interviewed Falcons coach Dan Quinn before hiring Todd Bowles in 2015.
Setting the stage for an important Ravens offseason.
A couple of Bengals rookies had their seasons ruined by injuries.
The Steelers aren’t second-guessing their use of zone coverage.
How long will Chuck Pagano remain the Colts’ coach?
The Jaguars are taking a break from providing a Senior Bowl coaching staff.
University of Miami CB Corn Elder would love to play for the Titans after rooting for them as a kid.
The Chiefs haven’t lost too many of their own free agents in recent years.
Some facts and fictions about the Raiders’ plan to move to Las Vegas.
What changes will defensive coordinator Greg Manusky make with the Redskins?
A list of Senior Bowl players that might interest the Lions.
The Vikings will try to become the second straight team to win the NFC a year after opening 5-0 and missing the playoffs.
The Falcons will be bringing the whole organization to Houston.
Breaking down the state of the Panthers’ special teams.
The Saints spent some time with a local prospect at the Senior Bowl.
Some early draft predictions for the Buccaneers.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has a torn rotator cuff.
A look at the Rams’ need at wide receiver.
Dwight Clark likes the choice of Kyle Shanahan as 49ers coach.
What will the Seahawks do on the offensive line this offseason?
One AFC North linebacker decided to pull out of the Pro Bowl and he’ll be replaced by another player from the same division.
Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley withdrew from the game with a calf injury, joining guard Marshal Yanda as Baltimore players selected for the roster who won’t be in Orlando this week. Mosley will be replaced by Ryan Shazier of the Steelers.
It’s the first time that Shazier will appear in a Pro Bowl. The speedy linebacker made 13 appearances for the Steelers and finished the season with 87 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the second year in a row. He added three forced fumbles and three interceptions before picking off two more passes during the postseason.
The internet never forgets and this week it is providing a reminder of how far Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler over the last four years.
On December 22, 2012, the Falcons were playing the Lions in a Sunday night game that saw Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones catch seven passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. Butler had recently wrapped up his first season at West Alabama and was apparently watching the game when he sent off a tweet featuring a hope that probably seemed a little farfetched given where he was in the football world.
Butler will get his chance in Houston and the matchup will be one of the most significant ones of the game. The Falcons have several strong options on offense, but Jones is the top one and slowing him down would make things more difficult for Atlanta while also making Butler’s dream come true. That would be a double win for the Patriots in their drive for a fifth Super Bowl title.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn knows how stressful it can be, when you’re balancing game-planning for the playoffs with thinking about a future head coaching job.
And he said he’s been impressed with the way Kyle Shanahan has been able to handle both.
Via Vaughn McClure of ESPN.com, Quinn said he admired the way his offensive coordinator was able to keep his focus, as the Falcons have scored 80 points in two playoff games.
“I’m really proud of him because it’s not easy to do, when there’s a lot of speculation and things going on outside your world, to stay dialed in,” Quinn said. “I think it’s one that should be commended. Being on point and going for it, he totally nailed that, knowing how to attack and how we were going to go through. It gets more attention, obviously, the longer it goes. We recognize that. The league does structures that there’s another opportunity for them to talk, and I’m sure they’ll do that.”
Shanahan will be able to meet with the 49ers Saturday, where he’ll get a chance to go over potential General Manager candidates. But they can’t formally hire him until after the Super Bowl.
Quinn was in the same spot when the Falcons hired him away from the Seahawks two years ago, and it doesn’t seem to have hurt.
“I tried to just give him my experience,” Quinn said. “Not tell him what to do, but tell him, ‘This is some of the pitfalls that happen; these are some of things I thought went well.’ I tried to do the same things with him this week.”
Shanahan’s ability to compartmentalize the task at hand has been impressive, and that ability earned him some comparisons to a coach he’ll see next week.
The Eagles filled their coaching staff Monday, adding Mike Groh as their new receivers coach.
Groh was the passing game coordinator for the Rams last year, though that seems like a title you’d scrub from your resume as quickly as possible.
“We are excited to add Mike Groh to our coaching staff,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said in a statement. “Mike brings with him a vast array of experience coaching wide receivers in the NFL and college. Over his career, he has demonstrated a great ability as a teacher and as a motivator and we look forward to him getting started in Philadelphia.”
Groh replaces the fired Greg Lewis.
Groh previously coached receivers for the Bears, and free agent to be Alshon Jeffery might be someone the Eagles could be interested in, as they need to upgrade the talent around quarterback Carson Wentz.