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Labriola on 'dirty moves,' Cam, Haden

Ready or not, here it comes:

NEWS ITEM: New England cornerback Stephon Gilmore accused Antonio Brown of a “dirty move” as the two players engaged in a minor scuffle during last Sunday’s game at Heinz Field. “He did a dirty little move, grabbed my helmet, threw me down,” Gilmore told the Providence Journal. “That was super dirty. But other than that, just competing on the field.”

• In fairness to Gilmore, that comment was just a snippet from his answer about competing against Brown, and he went on to refer to the back-and-forth between the players as “fun” and “just normal battling.”

• It’s always amusing when the Patriots attempt to take the moral high ground on any issue regarding a game, or their tactics within said game, or anything even mildly related to the game day experience, either on the road or at Gillette Stadium. Just to balance things on the sportsmanship meter, here are a couple of “tactics” the Patriots employed at Heinz Field that Gilmore could have thrown onto the “dirty little move” pile:

• After the Steelers second touchdown, at the snap of the ball for the PAT, a Patriots player is lined up directly opposite long-snapper Kam Canaday, and then at the snap of the ball he comes off and engages him immediately. While an illegal play on its surface based on the way the rules now offer protection to long-snappers, this also came just a couple of weeks after Canaday injured an MCL during a game against the Los Angles Chargers. But alas, no flag.

• It didn’t happen again after that instance, and so maybe it was an accident. Or if you subscribe to the theory that a Bill Belichick team is a thoroughly disciplined unit that knows the rules forward and backward, then maybe it was a deliberate act. Watch the all-22 video and decide for yourself. But what cannot be argued is that it would’ve been a big deal for the Steelers to lose their long-snapper to injury early in the second quarter.

• Then, with 34 seconds left in the third quarter, the Patriots faced a fourth-and-1 from the Steelers 10-yard line as they lined up for a field goal attempt by Stephen Gostkowski that if successful would have sliced their deficit to 14-10. With the Patriots lined up over the ball, Bill Belichick wandered down to the 10-yard line where he put himself right next to the official on that sideline, an official who is responsible for offside, false start, and similar infractions of that nature on the play.

• First of all, a coach is not permitted to be that far down the field, because he’s outside the “bench area,” and so that was a penalty. If he was there to distract that official in some way, either by talking to him or obstructing his view, that’s also a penalty. Quite possibly unsportsmanlike conduct.

• Belichick’s positioning deserves to be called into question because on the play, the Patriots tried to draw the Steelers offside with an illegal play, and this is how they attempted to do it:

• Long-snapper Joe Cardona put both hands on the football, and then as players from both teams tensed for the snap, Cardona took one hand off the ball and made a sweeping motion back toward the kicker, which was an obvious attempt to simulate a snap to draw the Steelers offside. Simulating a snap is a penalty.

• As that happened, Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic and cornerback Joe Haden immediately straightened up and began pointing at Cardona and calling for a penalty flag. This time the flag was thrown, and the way the penalty was announced according to the official play-by-play was as a false start on Ryan Allen, who is New England’s holder.

• No worries for New England. The Patriots took the 5 yards and lined up for a 33-yard field goal that Gostkowski nailed to make it 14-10, but the actual intent was to get a first-and-goal at the Steelers 5-yard line via an illegal snap during which the head coach attempted to distract or obstruct the official assigned to make that call.

• A sequence of events Gilmore might describe as a “dirty little move.” Or “typical Patriots.”

NEWS ITEM: Cam Heyward is one of six Steelers voted to the 2019 Pro Bowl.
• One year ago, Cam Heyward led the team with 12 sacks and wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl. One year later, with half as many sacks, he was. It often is said about the Pro Bowl that players get voted in one year later than they should and continue to be a part of the game one year longer than they deserve.

• Without spending even 10 seconds scouring the statistics/contributions of AFC defensive linemen, in my mind Heyward is worthy of the Pro Bowl because of the totality of his contributions over the course of the 2019 regular season. Facing frequent double-teams, likely because of those 12 sacks in 2017, Heyward nevertheless has provided consistent pressure on the passer, and he has done it as part of three-man and four-man rushes.

• And six sacks and 16 pressures from an interior defensive lineman who faces constant double-teams is solid production for sure.

• The annual Pro Bowl voting is debated annually for the players who end up selected as well as for those who are snubbed, but there is no debate about this: When viewing the totality of what Cam Heyward brings, there isn’t a team in the NFL that wouldn’t be made better by his presence in the lineup. To me, that’s a description of a Pro Bowl player right there.

NEWS ITEM: Joe Haden is voted AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his NFL career.
• In the 2010 NFL Draft, Joe Haden was the first cornerback selected, the seventh overall pick by the Cleveland Browns. During his seven seasons there, Haden was voted to the Pro Bowl twice (2013, 2014), and in 2013 he was voted second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press. But there were a lot of things Haden never had a chance to accomplish in the NFL until he signed with the Steelers on Aug. 30, 2017 after being cut by the Browns in a salary cap move.

• Haden never had been on a team that was 1-0. Haden never had been on a team that finished a regular season with a winning record. And the pure joy with which he wore his 2017 AFC North Champions T-shirt and hat showed that he never had been a part of that kind of winning at the NFL level and what it meant to him when he finally was.

• There can be no argument that Haden is the Steelers best defensive back, nor that he is one of the players the team cannot afford to lose to injury, and befitting someone of his ability and pedigree, Haden played his best game of the season in the one his team most needed to win.

• Last Sunday against the Patriots, Haden had 12 tackles, two passes defensed and a fourth-quarter interception at the Steelers 4-yard line in the team’s 17–10 victory. One of those two passes defensed came in the end zone on Tom Brady’s fourth-down attempt into the end zone to put the Steelers in position for victory formation.

• A segment of the media already is tripping all over itself to label a Browns team that’s 6-7-1 today as a sure-shot to make the playoffs in 2019. Whether that comes true or not, what’s not in doubt is the Browns would be a better team if Joe Haden still were on it, and the Steelers would be a lesser one if he were.

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