Even the most die-hard Patriots fans might have a hard time disliking Alejandro Villanueva. The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle served three tours of duty in Afghanistan in the Army. And he was also a Patriots fan.
To keep you up to speed on the latest storylines from the Pittsburgh side, we’ve partnered with our colleagues at the Post-Gazette to bring you excerpts of their coverage with links to the full versions. (Note: A limited number of free article views are available on the Post-Gazette website, and a four-week subscription is $12).
Here’s Friday’s installment:
Alejandro Villanueva used to be … a Patriots fan?
By Joe Starkey
“Don’t blow me up on this!’’ Steelers tackle Alejandro Villanueva joked (I think) at his locker recently.
I promised I wouldn’t. And I won’t. I’ll simply tell the story, because it’s a good story and hopefully a reminder that even as both cities froth over in advance of the NFL’s game of the year, there are things far, far more important than football.
The topic at hand was Villanueva’s devotion to a certain football team. One that competes in the AFC East and plays its home games in Foxborough, Mass.
He wasn’t just a patriot. He was a Patriot fan.
The Steelers need to bend, then break the Patriots’ red-zone defense
By Ray Fittipaldo
Bill Belichick has overseen some of the NFL’s top defenses in the 42 years he has spent in the NFL. He was the defensive coordinator for two Super Bowl championship teams with the New York Giants, and he’s a five-time champion as head coach of the Patriots.
But you won’t hear anyone make a case for any of Belichick’s defenses to rank among the NFL’s all-time best. Those accolades usually go to teams such as the 1976 Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears and 2000 Baltimore Ravens, all of whom dominated the league in every statistical category.
The Patriots don’t have the statistics to back them up, but Belichick has mastered the concept of the “bend-but-don’t- break’’ defense. His defense this season is the perfect example.
The Patriots are 29th in yards allowed, giving up a whopping 374 yards per game. But they’re tied for fifth in scoring defense, yielding 19.2 points per game.
As Jets defensive coordinator, Bill Belichick used to yell at receivers coach Todd Haley
By Ray Fittipaldo
Todd Haley’s first coaching gig in the NFL started in 1997 with the New York Jets. As a young receivers coach, one of his duties was running the scout-team offense at practices. The Jets defensive coordinator was Bill Belichick, who often got upset when Haley’s players weren’t following the details on the play cards.
“I had a coach screaming at me that he lined up one yard outside numbers instead of two, and I’m like, ‘What the hell is the difference?’ ’’ Haley said Thursday, laughing at the memory. “It tells you why he’s been one of the best coaches in the league. And why some coaches are good coaches and some guys aren’t so good. It’s the details and continuing to harp and push. Sometimes it involves a little yelling and screaming to make guys understand.’’
Haley and Belichick were together on Bill Parcells’ staff from 1997-99. Belichick left the Jets after the 1999 season to coach New England, where he has won five Super Bowls.
Rob Gronkowski feeds off the Steelers
By Ed Bouchette
Tom Brady might pull the trigger, but the real Steelers killer for the New England Patriots is a guy who spent his final season of high school in Allegheny County.
He has a linebacker’s name who plays tight end like one. He’s brutal, especially on the Steelers, which really aren’t his hometown team since he transferred under controversy from a Buffalo high school to play just one year of football at Woodland Hills. Even the WPIAL couldn’t stop him back then.
The Steelers have had their chances, and the only time he came up short against them is when he did not play at all in the AFC championship game last season.