Tag Archives: William Gay

Patriots – Steelers Keys, Who Has the Razor’s Edge?

Steve Balestrieri
October 21, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The New England Patriots head to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers on Sunday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 4:25 p.m.  This is the third week in a row that the Patriots take on a team from the AFC North.

The game will be televised by CBS and can be seen locally on WBZ-TV Channel 4 in Boston. Jim Nantz will handle play-by-play duties with Phil Simms as the color analyst. Tracy Wolfson will work the sidelines. The game will also be aired on the Patriots flagship radio station 98.5 The SportsHub with Bob Socci and Scott Zolak on the call, produced by Marc Cappello.

The Patriots (5-1) defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 35-17 last week in Foxboro. After falling behind 14-10 early in the third quarter, the Patriots rallied and outscored the Bengals 25-3 the rest of the way. Dont’a Hightower started the comeback with a sack of Andy Dalton for a safety. Tom Brady threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns and Rob Gronkowski had a career-high 162 yards on seven catches and a touchdown.

The Steelers (4-2) were defeated in Miami 30-15. Ben Roethlisberger tore his meniscus but came back to finish the game albeit in a losing effort. The Steelers normally stout run defense was gashed to the tune of over 220 yards by the Dolphins with 204 from running back Jay Ajayi.

We here at PatsFans.com are continuing our “Razor’s Edge” column in 2016 to give some quick analysis on some of the key matchups of the game and what you can look for in how the game plays out.

Series History:
The Patriots and Steelers meet for the 29th time and the 20th in Pittsburgh. The Steelers own a 15-13 edge overall in the history between the two teams including an 11-8 advantage in games played in Pittsburgh. However, since Bill Belichick took over the Patriots in 2000, the Patriots have had great success against the Steelers taking 9 of 12.

In their last meeting during the 2015 season opener, the Patriots won 28-21 with Tom Brady throwing for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns with three of them going to TE Rob Gronkowski.

Here is a look at some of the key matchups and who holds the Razor’s Edge.

First up is the Patriots offense:

Patriots Free Agency Outlook, Cornerbacks

Steve Balestrieri
February 22, 2016 at 6:00 am ET

The Patriots are set to enter the free agency phase of the 2016 off-season and we’ll explore some of the biggest needs of the team moving forward. And some of the names of their own free agents as well as some of their potential targets.

Next up on the free agency positional list: Cornerbacks

Team Need: Medium

Returning players: Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Darryl Roberts (IR), Rashaan Melvin

Free Agents: Tarell Brown (IR), Justin Coleman (ERFA)

The Patriots entered 2015 with questions about their secondary especially the corner position having lost all three starters (Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner and Kyle Arrington) from the Super Bowl winning team in the off-season. Gloom and doom was the order of the day. Most thought the Patriots would be forced to win 38-35 shootouts and the secondary would revert to the earlier 2010’s when the secondary was the Achilles Heel. The position went from one of strength to one considered a weakness.

It didn’t turn out that way, Malcolm Butler parlayed his Super Bowl heroics into a very solid first season of starting, going from a player on a tryout basis, to their starting left corner. No one on the Patriots defense played more snaps than Butler in 2015. He’ll be the starting left corner again in 2016 and will be in-line for a big payday soon.

Logan Ryan rebounded well after a poor second season in 2014. He moved into the starting RCB slot and started 14 games. He was the #11 rated CB according to Pro Football Focus (PFF) in 2015. He too is in-line for a raise and like Butler will become a free agent in 2017.

Coleman is a restricted rights free agent and should return and played well as the slot corner. Roberts was a 7th Round Draft pick last year, and turned heads in training camp and started the first preseason game against Green Bay before injuring his wrist in that game and ending up on IR. A very physically gifted CB, Roberts will be a player to watch on Day 1 of training camp this year.

Brown flashed his potential in the first three games (2 starts), but never recovered from his foot injury in 2014 and ended up on IR.

What the Patriots would really like is an upgrade at the RCB position and move Ryan into the slot. Bill Belichick loves his veterans on the defense and would like to bring in a veteran presence and allow the others to compete and sort out the rest.

Roberts and Coleman will no doubt be bolstered by some names both during and after the NFL draft as they look to build depth. But there are some intriguing free agent options out there. Here are a few that could be nice fits for the Patriots defense.

Patriots 2015 Opponents, Five First Impressions of the Steelers

Steve Balestrieri
September 7, 2015 at 8:44 am ET

The Patriots 2015 season kicks off with a Thursday night prime time match-up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The will be televised nationally by NBC with Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth on the call and Michelle Tafoya handling sideline duties. Kickoff is slated for 8:30 p.m.

The Steelers (11-5) have one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. QB Ben Roethlisberger set career records for attempts (608), completions (408), yards with 4952 and tied his touchdown record with 32 in 2014. His 106-52 record as a starting quarterback is fourth best among active QBs putting in the company of Brady, Manning and Rodgers. His start on Thursday will make him the all-time leader in QB starts in franchise history.

The defense is going through a transition period with the departures of long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, as well as long-time Steelers Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor. The onus now by new coordinator Keith Butler will be on fast, athletic players and having their defensive linemen tee off and come after the quarterback. It may take them time to gel as a unit with so many changes in both personnel and philosophy.

Here are our Five First Impressions of the Steelers:

Bell, Brown and Ben Cornerstones of the Offense: The Steelers have arguably the best offensive trio of QB, WR and RB of any team in the NFL, led by RB Le’Veon Bell, Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown.

They mark a very impressive trio that vaulted the Steelers to the #2 offense in the NFL last season. Bell won’t play on Thursday, having to serve a three-game suspension for a DUI arrest and drug possession charges. Although he’ll be missed, former Panther DeAngelo Williams and Dri Archer still give them a formidable duo.

Brown’s 129 catches last season were the second most in NFL history for a single season. He’s Roethlisberger’s go-to guy and with Markus Wheaton and newcomer Sammie Coates, the Steelers have plenty of speed outside. The venerable Heath Miller returns for an 11th season, providing Roethlisberger with a reliable safety valve.

Allen Replaces Thomas At Safety: Pittsburgh announced that 12-year vet Will Allen will replace Shamarko Thomas at strong safety this week and play opposite free safety Mike Mitchell. Thomas, the 3rd year safety was originally drafted to replace Polamalu but has struggled this preseason.

He allowed a 31-yard scoring play against the Jaguars, as well as a 67-yard scoring play against the Bills and a 49-yard touchdown run versus Carolina where he missed a key tackle. He still may see the field in some sub-packages on Thursday.

Allen and Mitchell will be tasked with stopping the Patriots tight end tandem of Gronkowski and Chandler which will be one area of interest to watch in this week’s game.

Offensive Line, Once a Weakness, Now a Position of Strength: The Steelers offensive line for years took a lot of flak, some of it deservedly so for their play in protecting Roethlisberger. But part of the reason was that the big QB would hold the ball for incredibly long stretches trying to allow plays to develop. While many big plays developed, Roethlisberger also took a terrific beating.

Now with an improved offensive line, perhaps the best in his time in Pittsburgh and a passing game of OC Todd Haley that is keyed on his getting the ball out quicker, the offense has thrived.

Maurkice Pouncey anchors the line at center, although he’s hurt now and will miss the first eight weeks of the season. But Big Ben’s blindside is firmly protected by left tackle Kelvin Beachum and left guard Ramon Foster. Beachum is a good story, a 7th round pick who worked his way into a job and has been steadily improving. The right side is held down by T Marcus Gilbert and G David DeCastro.

This is a very solid unit and will provide a great test for the Patriots new improved front seven this week.

Change in Philosophy on Defense Still Working Out Kinks: The zone blitzes of the Steelers defense under Dick LeBeau was known as Blitzburg. But he’s gone, now in Tennessee and former LB coach Keith Butler has had to retool on the fly.

Instead of the two-gap responsibilities of the past, this Steelers defensive line will probably get after the quarterback in a more aggressive style.Cameron Heyward had a breakout season last year and Stephon Tuitt will have to fill big shoes with Keisel retiring. Steve McClendon leads a group of large bodies in the interior with Daniel McCullers, Clifton Geathers and Cam Thomas.

The linebacking group will have to pick up the slack in the pass rush department with James Harrison, Arthur Moats, Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and newcomer Bud Dupree.

The Steelers secondary was a problem, compounded by a weaker pass rush in 2014. They’re most probably going to use a Cover-2/Tampa-2  system to cut down on the big plays that they gave up last season. In the Tampa-2, the safeties and MLB drop and cover the deeper part of the field to take away the deep ball, but against New England with a shorter passing game, which is very effective against that, we may see some other looks. But the secondary of Cortez Allen, William Gay, Mitchell and Allen will be under the microscope early this season.

Feel Good Story, Army Ranger Villanueva Makes Roster: The Steeler have a big offensive lineman that made the roster this season. Huge 6’9, 335 pound Alejandro Villanueva made the initial 53-man roster out of training camp.

Villanueva is a West Point graduate and served in the 1st Ranger Bn at Hunter Army Airfield as well as in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division. He earned a Bronze Star for Valor while rushing to the aid of pinned down fellow soldiers under fire in Afghanistan.

He gained 90 pounds from his military weight of 245 due to a strict workout and his wife’s cooking. He’s a versatile player who can play multiple positions and has impressed the Pittsburgh coaches with his work ethic and professionalism, hallmarks of a military officer.

He was signed to the Steelers practice squad last August and earned his way onto the 53-man roster this season. Note to the Patriots coaches….there ARE other services other than the Navy…

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