AFC East: Pittsburgh Steelers

Hartline/WorildsGetty ImagesBrian Hartline, left, and Miami face Jason Worilds and Pittsburgh in a game with playoff implications.
The postseason has started early for several teams around the NFL. The Miami Dolphins (6-6) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7) are two of those clubs, and they will meet Sunday at Heinz Field in what could amount to a playoff eliminator.

Miami and Pittsburgh are fighting for the final wild-card spot in the AFC, which is currently held by the Baltimore Ravens (6-6). The winner of Sunday’s game will remain firmly in the playoff hunt, while the loser falls behind the pack.

ESPN.com’s Dolphins reporter James Walker and Steelers reporter Scott Brown weigh in on who will prevail in this important game.

Walker: Scott, I think much of this game will be determined by the matchup between Miami’s ninth-ranked pass defense against Pittsburgh’s eight-ranked passing offense. This is a strength vs. strength clash. The Dolphins are very wary of Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle knows Roethlisberger well from his days with the Cincinnati Bengals and has a healthy respect for “Big Ben.” He’s unlike any quarterback Miami has faced this season because of his ability to extend plays to throw deep, not necessarily to run for extra yards. There is a lot of pressure on Miami’s cornerbacks and safeties to maintain their coverage longer than usual to prevent big gains on broken plays.

Speaking of which, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown is Pittsburgh’s best playmaker, and leads the NFL in receptions. What makes him so dangerous?

Brown: It’s funny that Brown still doesn’t get his due as a No. 1 wide receiver, even from some media types in Pittsburgh, despite the phenomenal numbers he has put up this season. Brown might not have the size associated with No. 1 receivers, and he does not have blazing speed, but he has excellent quickness, is a superb route runner, and Roethlisberger has said he’s never seen a receiver who is able to adjust to a ball while it’s in the air the way Brown regularly does. Above all, Brown works at it. I mean really works at it. He is maniacal about training, and it’s not uncommon for Brown to hit the gym for a workout after spending all day at Steelers’ headquarters.

James, you have been immersed in one the biggest stories of the season, and I’m sure Steelers’ fans would appreciate your take on how the Dolphins have dealt with the turmoil and distractions caused by the Jonathan Martin bullying allegations. Have the Dolphins settled into any semblance of normalcy, or is their a new normal in Miami?

Walker: Things have been as close to normal this week as it's been since Martin left the team Oct. 28. There was a huge dark cloud hanging over the Dolphins, and things intensified and became very uptight the week NFL lead investigator Ted Wells visited the team. I expect things to be relatively calm for a couple more weeks until Wells completes the report and releases his findings. After that, all bets are off. There will be no winners in this complex situation. I don't expect Richie Incognito or Martin to return to Miami. So the Dolphins have already taken a hit. More heads could roll if others are found culpable.

Scott, one Dolphin who is excited about this matchup is former Steelers receiver Mike Wallace. What type of reception do you think he will receive, and how will Pittsburgh's secondary defend Wallace?

Brown: I think Wallace will hear his share of boos. I think he is perceived, fair or not, by a lot of Steelers fans as selfish and a player who did not produce enough last season or help the team chemistry because of his contract situation. I’m real interested to see how the Steelers try to defend Wallace. His speed is going to be a problem for a defensive backfield that has lost a collective step given the age of its starting safeties, not to mention top cornerback Ike Taylor.

Taylor usually draws the assignment of shadowing the opposing team’s No. 1 wide receiver, but I’m not sure the Steelers will do that with Wallace, since coach Mike Tomlin has a lot of respect for Brian Hartline as well. Whoever draws Wallace will get help from a safety, but he could have a big game at Heinz Field. The Steelers have given up seven passing plays of at least 50 yards this season, and I’m sure Wallace would love nothing more than to add to his former team’s total.

James, what are the early reviews on Wallace? It doesn’t seem like the Dolphins are getting the return from the investment they made in him, though I know it’s early.

Walker: It’s still a work in progress, Scott. Wallace hasn’t put up the production many in Miami expected, but there is plenty of blame to go around. Starting with Wallace, the drops are on him. Wallace had too many drops early in the season, although he’s gotten better in the second half of the year. But other factors such as scheme and quarterback Ryan Tannehill's inability to throw a consistent deep ball has made it tough for Wallace to make the same plays he made in Pittsburgh. Tannehill doesn’t have Roethlisberger’s arm strength or ability to extend plays. Wallace thrived off broken plays that Roethlisberger created. Tannehill doesn’t have near the same elusiveness and ability to out-throw the coverage. Wallace is getting open, but many of Tannehill’s deep balls have been underthrown, which allows defenders to recover. There are some things involved that Wallace cannot control. But he does have momentum coming into this game. Wallace has totaled 12 catches for 209 yards and two touchdowns in his past two games. I expect him to be amped for Sunday.

Finally, Scott, what do you think of Pittsburgh’s playoff chances, and how it relates to this game?

Brown: In spite of the latest wave of injuries to hit the offensive line, I actually think the Steelers have a chance to win their final four games and make the playoffs -- if they get the help they are going to need with the Ravens. My outlook probably changes if Aaron Rodgers is playing quarterback in the Steelers’ Dec. 22 game at Green Bay. But if the Packers drop out of playoff contention, does Rodgers play against the Steelers? That is a big if as of right now.

Green Bay is the only remaining road game for the Steelers, so the schedule sets up favorably, especially given Rodgers’ uncertain status. Roethlisberger is really locked in right now, and I think he is capable of carrying the Steelers and masking a lot of problems assuming an offensive line that is held together by duct tape can do a reasonable job of protecting him.

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Double Coverage: Bills at Steelers

November, 8, 2013
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Roethlisberger/ManuelUSA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger, left, and EJ Manuel are trying to guide their teams through difficult seasons.
Two teams that have combined for five wins and don’t appear to be going anywhere this season meet Sunday at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be angry after getting routed Sunday in New England, but the Buffalo Bills might be equally desperate after losing four of their past five games.

It looks like EJ Manuel will return for the Bills, but rookie quarterbacks have not fared well against Dick LeBeau defenses. But no rookie quarterback has faced the Steelers defense when it has been this vulnerable under LeBeau.

ESPN.com reporters Mike Rodak (Bills) and Scott Brown (Steelers) take an in-depth look at the first meeting between the teams since the Steelers won a 19-16 overtime game at Buffalo in 2010.

Brown: Mike, is this team Pittsburgh North? There are a lot of Steelers connections there with general manager Doug Whaley and a handful of the players. The two I’m interested in hearing about are the starting guards -- Doug Legursky and Kraig Urbik. How have the two played, and how has the offensive line played overall?

Rodak: Scott, I think Whaley would like it to be Pittsburgh North, eventually. The Steelers are one of the most successful franchises, and Whaley comes from that background. Defensively, there are similarities between Mike Pettine's blitz-heavy scheme and much of the zone blitzing that LeBeau uses. And offensively, Manuel is a big, mobile quarterback with some speedy receivers, much like Ben Roethlisberger and his pass-catchers in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, though, I think the Bills want to forge their own identity, and the Steelers connections don't run much deeper than Whaley and a few others.

As far as Urbik and Legursky, they haven't been Pro Bowlers by any stretch. Returning from a knee injury last month, Legursky helped stabilize a left guard position that has been reeling since losing Andy Levitre in free agency last offseason. But as a whole, the offensive line has allowed more sacks -- the seventh most in the NFL, to be precise -- than it would prefer.

Looking at the Steelers' big picture, what has gone wrong this season? From an outside perspective, an aging defense appears to be part of it, but that can't tell the whole story. What are the biggest problem areas?

Brown: Age is only part of the equation when looking at the Steelers’ struggles. The other half is that the Steelers were so good for so long at developing younger players to step in for veteran stalwarts who retired or signed elsewhere. That hasn’t happened in recent years, in part because the quality of Steelers’ drafts has slipped.

The drop-off in talent hasn’t been as severe as it would seem for a team that has lost 11 of its past 15 games, which leads me to perhaps the Steelers’ biggest problem on the field: This team is simply allergic to momentum. The Steelers, when they were winning regularly, played so well off one another as far as the different units. This season, more often than not, the offense has not been able to bail out the defense and vice versa.

I’m curious what has held back the Bills, aside from the instability and inexperience at quarterback. This team seems to have its share of talent, so why aren’t the Bills winning more?

Rodak: The quarterback situation is a big part of it, like you said. No matter who's been out there -- Manuel, Thad Lewis or Jeff Tuel -- they haven't been able to make enough plays to win in the NFL. It's really been the defense that has picked up the slack in two of the Bills' three wins this season. Against the Baltimore Ravens, it intercepted Joe Flacco five times, and just when it looked like the Miami Dolphins were going to win a few weeks ago, Mario Williams came up with a game-changing strip-sack. So when dissecting why the Bills are 3-6, their quarterback play is the overriding factor.

Otherwise, I think the story is similar to Pittsburgh's. The defense has played well at times, but when it hasn't played well, the offense hasn't been up to snuff. And when the offense has started cranking -- and that's been rare -- the defense has dropped off. Doug Marrone referenced Wednesday the need for the defense to generate more turnovers -- it hasn't forced one in more than two games -- which has caused the Bills' turnover differential for the season to turn negative this week.

What has been the problem offensively for the Steelers? I've always counted Roethlisberger among the top 10 quarterbacks in the league, and at least on paper, there is some serious talent between Le'Veon Bell, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown. Is the offensive line really that bad to drag everyone down?

Brown: The offense played without Bell and Miller for the first two games, and it showed as the Steelers managed just two touchdowns in those contests. Bell has stabilized the running game, and Miller’s return has been huge considering his value in the running and passing game.

The offense’s struggles stem most from the ongoing shuffling along the offensive line. The unit, for whatever reason, is consistently decimated by injuries, and this season is no different. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener. The Steelers even lost a lineman (Levi Brown) to a season-ending injury in pregame warm-ups. Those kinds of things have happened to the Steelers’ offensive line, it seems, every season since Mike Tomlin took over as head coach in 2007.

The line has played better in recent weeks, and I thought it did fairly well in New England even with the crowd noise forcing the Steelers to use a silent snap count. It faces another challenge this week as the Bills have the kind of defensive line that can really give the Steelers fits.

Williams has been a beast, and the Steelers will probably have to give left tackle Kelvin Beachum some help with Williams. Mike, what about the two interior lineman, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus? They seem like they can be plenty disruptive.

Rodak: They certainly can be, Scott. Each has four sacks this season, which puts both on pace for career highs. It seems like each week, when we talk to opposing head coaches, they start off by mentioning Dareus, Mario Williams and Kyle Williams. They're the strength of the team. Kyle Williams in particular has shown a knack for being disruptive in the backfield at the right time, while Dareus has improved from what some felt were subpar seasons since being drafted third overall in 2011. The Steelers' offensive line will need to hold its ground and allow Roethlisberger to take shots at the weaker points of the defense.

What do the Steelers need to do to turn this season around? Does any hope remain that they will make the playoffs?

Brown: Believe it or not, the players still believe they have a shot at the playoffs given how mediocre the AFC has been aside from a few teams. But they are also realistic that their focus has to stay squarely on what is in front of them.

The biggest thing the Steelers need to do to turn around their season is get back to what has worked for them for so long. That starts with stopping the run. As much as some Steelers fans want to lay blame for the defense’s failings on LeBeau -- and the fact that he is 76 -- the reality is this: LeBeau didn’t suddenly forget how to coach. However, his defense doesn’t work if the Steelers can’t stop the run and force teams into obvious passing situations.

Offensively, the Steelers have been at their best this season when they have established balance. If they want to take better care of Roethlisberger, who is taking another beating this season, they need to limit his passing attempts. The best way to do that is establish the ground game and run Bell early and often. Sounds easy enough, no?

 

Live blog: Steelers at Patriots

November, 3, 2013
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Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Pittsburgh Steelers' visit to the New England Patriots. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 4:15 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Live blog: Steelers at Jets

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
10:00
AM ET
Join our ESPN.com NFL experts as they break down the Pittsburgh Steelers' visit to the New York Jets. Contribute your thoughts and questions beginning at 1 p.m. ET. And, be sure to visit our NFL Nation Blitz page for commentary from every game, as well as fan photos and the latest buzz from Twitter. See you there.

Double Coverage: Steelers at Jets

October, 11, 2013
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Ben Roethlisberger and Geno SmithUSA TODAY SportsBen Roethlisberger and the 0-4 Steelers take on Geno Smith and the surprising Jets.

Things you didn't expect to see in the standings when the NFL released the schedule last April: The New York Jets at 3-2, the Pittsburgh Steelers at 0-4.

The rebuilding Jets were supposed to struggle under a coach who already was being called a lame duck, and the Steelers ... well, they were supposed to be the Steelers, a model of consistency.

The two teams meet up Sunday at MetLife Stadium. The Steelers are off to their worst start since 1968, the year of the Jets' only Super Bowl season. If the Steelers lose this game, they're pretty much done in terms of playoff aspirations. The Jets played a similarly desperate team Monday night, and that didn't seem to faze them, as they stunned the Atlanta Falcons on the road. The Steelers should be well-rested coming off a bye week.

ESPN.com Jets team reporter Rich Cimini and Steelers reporter Scott Brown break down the matchup:

Cimini: Scott, I look down the Steelers' roster and I still see a lot of those familiar names -- Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, etc. It's hard to imagine how the Steelers could be this bad. I'm sure you could write 5,000 words on why they're 0-4, but how 'bout a few thoughts on what has gone wrong?

Brown: Rich, I think I have written triple that amount on everything that has gone wrong. Turnovers have been the biggest problem for the Steelers, and that is on both sides of the ball. The Steelers have committed 11 of them with six coming in the last two games by Roethlisberger alone, and they are still without a takeaway, which is unbelievable when you think about it.

Playing from behind has a lot to do with the Steelers' turnover problem, especially on defense. The defense is at its best when it puts opposing quarterbacks in obvious passing situations and forces them into the kind of mistakes that lead to turnovers. Would you believe the Steelers have had exactly two leads this season and those were 2-0 and 3-0 in the season opener against the Titans and in the second game at Cincinnati, respectively?

Rich, this defense usually confuses and frustrates rookie quarterbacks, but Geno Smith has hardly played like a first-year signal-caller. Has his play surprised you, and is it sustainable?

Cimini: I was surprised by how well he played Monday night in Atlanta because he had been a turnover machine -- 11 in his first four games. All of a sudden, something clicked. I don't know if it was a one-game thing or the start of a trend.

I know the Steelers' defense isn't what it used to be, but Dick LeBeau will have had two weeks to cook up something to confuse the kid. How Smith responds to new looks from the defense will decide this game. The Jets leaned a bit more on the running game last week, taking some pressure off Smith, and I suspect they'll take a similar approach on Sunday. Blitz pick-up will be a key, as will the receivers' ability to gain separation. I remember the Steelers were very aggressive last season in Week 2 with the Jets' wideouts. While on the subject of quarterback play, how would you assess Big Ben's play to this point?

Brown: It has been fine other than the turnovers, and I think it will get better with tight end Heath Miller back and running back Le'Veon Bell giving the Steelers a legitimate threat in the ground game. Roethlisberger is on pace to throw for almost 5,000 yards this season, which would obliterate his career-high of 4,328 yards (2009). But Roethlisberger is also averaging just over 40 pass attempts per game. That number is way too high, especially given how leaky the Steelers' offensive line has been through the first quarter of the season.

The emergence of Bell should restore balance to the Steelers' offense. My question for you is, will such balance have to wait a week? The Jets’ defensive line looks awfully physical and it is hard to envision the Steelers having much luck running the ball against it.

Cimini: You're right, Scott, the Jets have been very good against the run. They've faced some good backs -- Chris Johnson, C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin -- and they're allowing only 76.2 yards per game and 3.0 per carry. I'd be surprised if the Steelers have much success on the ground.

The Jets' front seven is much improved from last season. They added more athleticism at nose tackle (Damon Harrison), tackle (Sheldon Richardson), weak inside linebacker (DeMario Davis) and rush linebacker (Quinton Coples). They're no longer vulnerable on the perimeter, as they were last season. I think they will make the Steelers one-dimensional, which should allow the Jets to get good pressure on Roethlisberger. Speaking of pressure ... four sacks for the mighty Steelers? What happened to that defense?

Brown: Man, depends on who you ask. The easy answer is to say that age has finally collared a once fearsome defense, but that is not entirely accurate. Defensive end Brett Keisel, strong safety Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor are among the most tenured Steelers, and they have played well this season.

Age has caught up with the Steelers a little bit, and the defense needs to get more out of younger players such as cornerback Cortez Allen and outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. Jones, the Steelers' No. 1 pick last April, is going to be really good, but he has not made much of an impact as a pass-rusher. The Steelers desperately need Jones to emerge opposite Woodley, who has three of the team's four sacks.

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PITTSBURGH -- Here are some quick hits from the Steelers’ first open locker room of the week:

-- Ike Taylor has talked to left tackle Mike Adams and defensive Ziggy Hood, each of whom has been replaced in the starting lineup. Taylor lost his starting job for a five-game stretch during the second half of the 2006 season, and he said he turned out to be a better player from the benching. His advice to the demoted: “Act the same. Stay the same. Have the same approach,” Taylor said. “Take it personal and once you take it personal everything else will settle in.”

-- Hood said he took it hard when defensive line coach John Mitchell told him at the beginning of the week that he would be replaced in the starting lineup by Cameron Heyward. But the fifth-year veteran said he won’t let the demotion adversely affect him or his friendship with Heyward. “I’d be a horrible teammate if I allowed this to eat me up inside and turn away from him because he’s starting and I’m not because that’s not the type of guy I am,” Hood said.

-- Ryan Clark said during his ESPN visit last week that he thought quarterback Ben Roethlisberger needed to reign himself in at times since his propensity for extending plays also resulted in too many turnovers and sacks. Roethlisberger said Wednesday he hadn’t heard Clark’s comments but that he didn’t take offense to them either. “That’s the great thing about this country we live in," Roethlisberger said. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion. If Ryan feels that way that’s fine.”

-- Le’Veon Bell didn’t hear the praise that Roethlisberger lavished on the rookie running back during his weekly radio show. He allowed only a small grin when Roethlisberger said Bell had done some things reminiscent of Adrian Peterson in his NFL debut. “I don’t want to buy into too much of the praise,” Bell said. “I don’t want to buy into too much of the criticism. I just want to say level-headed and keep going out there and make plays. The fact that I’m getting compliments like that from my teammates is good for me. I’ve got to continue to do the right things and hopefully more will come.”

-- Jets coach Rex Ryan said during a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters that it doesn’t look good for wide receiver Santonio Holmes playing Sunday against his former team. Taylor isn’t buying it. “I think he is [playing],” Taylor said. “That’s just my mentality.” Holmes had been out after injuring his hamstring in the Jets’ fourth game of the season. He won’t practice today, Ryan said.
With training camp just around the corner, the AFC East blog will provide over/under totals throughout the week for key players in the division. On Tuesday, we take a look at deep threat and Miami Dolphins No. 1 receiver Mike Wallace.

SportsNation

Will Dolphins WR Mike Wallace have over/under 1,100 receiving yards?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,342)

The AFC East blog sets Wallace’s over/under total at 1,100 receiving yards this season. Can Wallace reach that goal in Miami?

Wallace’s career high is 1,257 receiving yards with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He held out in a contract dispute with the Steelers last year and posted 64 receptions for 836 yards. But the Dolphins expect Wallace to return to his old form following no distractions and a full offseason with the team.

Can Wallace put up very good numbers as the focal point of Miami's offense? He will be the biggest and most talented target for second-year Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Using our SportsNation poll, vote on the over/under total of 1,200 receiving yards for Wallace in 2013. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below.
The Buffalo Bills are still in search of their starting left guard following the departure of Andy Levitre in free agency. The Bills signed free-agent guard Doug Legursky Wednesday and will add him to the mix to compete for a starting job.

Legursky will compete with guards Colin Brown, Chris Scott and Sam Young. The Bills are looking to run an up-tempo offense this year under first-year head coach Doug Marrone.

Legursky has good ties with Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley. Legursky joined the Pittsburgh Steelers as a rookie free agent in 2009 when Whaley worked in the front office. Legursky spent four seasons with Pittsburgh and started 17 games.

To make room for Legursky, Buffalo released linebacker Greg Lloyd.
Here are the most interesting stories Wednesday in the AFC East: Morning take: Time will tell. On paper, Miami should be a playoff contender. But it's going to take good coaching, good health and consistent play for the Dolphins to reach their potential.
  • New England Patriots starting cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was carted off the field after suffering an arm or shoulder injury.
Morning take: This is not good news for New England. Dennard is a good player, and the Patriots need all the cornerback depth they can get. Let's wait and see the extent of the injury.
Morning take: Buffalo is looking for depth at guard and still searching for a replacement after Andy Levitre signed with the Tennessee Titans. Legursky spent time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and has ties to Bills general manager Doug Whaley.
  • Here is some bad news for the New York Jets: Star cornerback Darrelle Revis plans to be ready for Week 1 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Morning take: I don't expect Revis to miss the Bucs' Sept. 8 opener against New York. Trading him provides extra motivation to stick it to his former team. The Jets are in trouble if Revis returns to form.
Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark said this week that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady “sees ghosts” in the pocket. According to Clark, Brady ducks, dodges and flinches from phantom pressure if he holds the ball too long.

As a result, it didn't take long for Tedy Bruschi to come to Brady's defense. Bruschi was a former teammate of Brady and the pair won Super Bowls together in New England. Bruschi didn't deny Brady's ducking and dodging from phantom defenders, because we’ve all seen it live and on tape. But Bruschi said Brady is simply "protecting the franchise."

Bruschi, in return, also takes a subtle shot at Clark's quarterback with the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, who doesn't flinch from contact and takes a lot of big hits during the season.

"I will talk about Ryan's quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger," Bruschi said. "He’s only played 16 games one time in his entire nine-year career. He’s missed eight games in the last three years."

It appears Clark and Bruschi have differing opinions of how to best play quarterback. But it's clear that both ways can be effective. Brady and Roethlisberger have combined to win five Super Bowl titles.
Numbers don’t lie -- and neither does the game film.

That was my first reaction to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark's remarks that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sometimes "sees ghosts" in the pocket. I've watched games in person where Brady ducks, flinches or slides away from phantom pressure in the pocket. At 35, it happens more and more at the latter stages of Brady's career.

"In 2010, we saw it start with the Jets in the playoffs," Clark explained on ESPN's "NFL Live" this week. “When Tom Brady gets pressure and when you're man-to-man and bumping those guys and making it hard for him to throw, he sees ghosts.

"Even when guys aren't around him, even when he's not about to be sacked, when his clock goes off in his head that the ball should be out, we'll see him duck, we'll see him flinch. When you get Tom Brady doing that, the whole New England Patriots mystique goes away."

The statistics also back Clark's analysis.

According to ESPN Stats and Information, Brady’s completion percentage drops from 68.2 percent to 42.3 percent when he holds onto the ball three seconds or longer. New England is very much a timing and rhythm offense. As Clark mentioned, opponents increase their chances of success by throwing off Brady's timing with his receivers. Brady’s Total Quarterback Rating also falls from a stellar 81.1 to an average 59.7 when he holds the ball three seconds or longer.

You cannot fault Brady for wanting to avoid big hits. Brady has been sacked 59 times the past two seasons, and each year those hits become harder to take. Brady, who just signed a contract extension through 2017, wants to play until he's 40. The only way he accomplishes that goal is by avoiding clean hits in the pocket.

The blueprint is out there to beat Brady. Teams like the Baltimore Ravens and New York Giants have consistently beaten New England doing many of the things Clark explained. However, it's much easier said than done for most teams.

Clark and the Steelers will get their chance to make Brady see "ghosts" this upcoming season when Pittsburgh travels to Gillette Stadium to face Brady and the Patriots on November 3.

The Pittsburgh Steelers' decision to match the New England Patriots' one-year, $2.5 million offer for Emmanuel Sanders won't cause shockwaves in Foxborough. The Patriots always viewed Sanders as a luxury, not a necessity. They offered a team-friendly contract to see if Pittsburgh would match. It was a calculated risk the Patriots were willing to take.

Now that New England knows Sanders is staying in Pittsburgh, the Patriots can shift their attention to the draft. New England, as a result, will retain its third-round pick. The Patriots own just five picks total this April.

The Patriots still need depth at receiver. New England lost starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd in one offseason. The group of Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Julian Edelman and Donald Jones won't put fear in opponents. Now that Sanders is out of the picture for New England, adding the right rookie receiver in the draft could make this group work.

Emmanuel Sanders decision looming

April, 13, 2013
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The New England Patriots will know by the end of the weekend whether restricted free-agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be their newest addition. The Pittsburgh Steelers have until Sunday to make their decision on keeping Sanders by matching New England's $2.5 million offer or letting Sanders walk and accept New England's third-round draft pick.

There are pros and cons to each scenario, which is why Pittsburgh is taking the full five days to decide. The Steelers are tight against the cap and would be paying approximately double Sanders' original salary to keep the receiver. On the other hand, Pittsburgh already lost receiver Mike Wallace to free agency with the Miami Dolphins and doesn't want to lose another potential starter.

ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton recently reported that it's "50-50." Some in the Steelers’ organization want the draft pick, while others want to keep the player. New England made its move and obviously feels Sanders is better and more proven than any receiver it can get in the third round.

Sanders caught 44 passes for 626 yards and one touchdown last season.
The New England Patriots' game plan at wide receiver is coming into focus this week.

Earlier on Wednesday, New England presented an offer sheet to Pittsburgh Steelers restricted free-agent receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Less than two hours later, the Patriots re-signed Julian Edelman, according to USA TODAY.

It's becoming clear that New England is looking to replace lost 2012 starters Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd with a committee of wide receivers.

Edelman, Danny Amendola, Michael Jenkins, Donald Jones and potentially Sanders are not household names. But New England is building as much depth and competition as possible at receiver and will let the position sort itself out during training camp and the regular season.

Edelman briefly flirted with the New York Giants before re-joining the Patriots. Edelman knows the system well, and he was once considered the heir apparent to Welker in the slot before suffering a season-ending foot injury last year.

Outside of Edelman, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will have a lot of new receivers to throw to. Quickly developing chemistry will be key for the Patriots' offense to remain dominant this upcoming season.
The New England Patriots decided to cut receiver Brandon Lloyd after just one season, the team announced. The Patriots were in discussions with Lloyd about taking a pay cut, but could not reach a resolution before his $3 million bonus was due this weekend.

Lloyd’s release means New England will continue a drastic makeover at receiver. Lloyd joins Pro Bowler Wes Welker as starting receivers who will not return to the Patriots in 2013. Patriots backup receiver Julian Edelman also is an unrestricted free agent.

Lloyd caught 74 passes for 911 yards and four touchdowns in his only season with New England. Those are solid numbers. However, Lloyd struggled at times to get on the same page as quarterback Tom Brady. Lloyd wasn't the consistent force on the outside the team expected.

The Patriots already found Welker’s replacement with Danny Amendola. But who will replace Lloyd?

This could set the table for New England to make a push for Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and restricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders. The Patriots hosted Sanders for a visit on Friday, and according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, they are deciding whether to make an offer.

Pittsburgh has a tight salary cap and could have trouble matching a potential offer from New England. If Pittsburgh declines, it would cost the Patriots a third-round draft pick for Sanders.

Other than Sanders, there are not many free-agent options for the Patriots to land a starting-caliber receiver. The draft also isn't top-heavy at receiver. So the Patriots might have to get creative to replace Lloyd.

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