Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ryan Clark joined ESPN’s “NFL Live” with analyst Darren Woodson. Clark was asked “how vulnerable the Patriots are given the offseason loss of Wes Welker,” and Clark replied “I think what’s really underestimated is Wes Welker’s importance to not only the New England Patriots, but Tom Brady. A lot of what they do is timing. A lot of what they do is option reads, when you’re working inside against that nickelback or against those linebackers. Losing him is huge. I know they think Danny Amendola can come in and have the same type of numbers he had with the Rams, but we also have to remember, he’s fragile. He’s not a guy who has completed a whole season, especially playing inside in what can be a physical AFC East. You also think about Gronkowski and the injury; that is going to be bigger than anything for the New England Patriots coming in this year. Also Aaron Hernandez. In 2010, we saw it start with the Jets in the playoffs. 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.”
When asked what the game plan has been for the Steelers versus New England, Clark said “I’ll be honest, the years we tried to go in there and fire zone and play Tom Brady in that way, he was able to pick us apart. In that, you’re not overloading the offense — one-on-one rushes, only rushing five, so he’s able to find places to go,” Two years ago we played them and dominated them because we went man-to-man and had a big corner in Cortez Allen on Gronkowski, and made it hard for Tom Brady to get the ball off, in timing, and made him to have to make plays. It was hard for him.”
Clark isn’t saying anything New England, Brady, and Patriot fans haven’t heard before. Personally, I prefer Brady to duck before hits, and not run because it lessens his risk of injury, and aside from a season ending injury, Brady has been there almost every game for New England and that is much more important then a “tough” guy reputation, and that is why I’ll take him seeing “ghost” every now and then in games if that means a healthy Tom Brady. One thing to keep in mind is that even though there is no Welker, the Patriots have gotten bigger and faster at the wide receiver spot which is something they really didn’t have in 2011. I do agree with Clark that Hernandez and Gronkowski health is a huge key in 2013, they both need to stay healthy through out the season and post season.
The Steelers and Patriots play November 3 at Gillette Stadium.