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Confidence key for QB Landry Jones ahead of tilt with New England Patriots

By
The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) steps back to pass in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during a preseason game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on August 18, 2016. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Landry Jones (3) steps back to pass in the first quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during a preseason game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on August 18, 2016. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

Landry Jones made a great first impression on the Pittsburgh Steelers last season when he came on in relief of an injured and ineffective Michael Vick in a home game against the Arizona Cardinals.

Competing against one of the top defensive backfields in the NFL, Jones threw for 168 yards and two touchdowns in about two quarters of work and led the Steelers to a 25-13 victory against a team that won its division and played for the NFC championship.

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The concern for the Steelers (4-2) as Jones prepares to start against the New England Patriots (5-1) on Sunday (4:25 p.m., ET) at Heinz Field is his first impression wasn't a lasting one. Jones' level of play decreased as the season went on. He threw two interceptions in a 23-13 loss to Kansas City the following week and he was picked off in the AFC wild-card game against the Cincinnati Bengals when he had to play after Ben Roethlisberger injured his shoulder.

Roethlisberger is out for this game due to an injured knee, and Jones' teammates are trying to recreate that Arizona vibe this week.

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"We have to get Landry confidence," running back Le'Veon Bell said. "When he's confident, he can make some plays. And when he has some pep in his step, he can strike. Ben's been a starter for a long time at a high level. We just have to get him to the point where he's real confident and he feels like he can do no wrong and feels like he can strike. We don't want him to be too tense and thinking about too much at once.

"We want him to be confident and go out there and make some plays. He came in during the Arizona game and was striking. That was a big pickup for him. We have to do things he's comfortable with."

While his teammates are working instilling confidence into the fourth-year quarterback, the coaches will be busy trying to figure out what Jones can do well against the Patriots. Jones said he felt like he had a full grasp of the playbook when he played last season, but there are things that might suit him better than Roethlisberger.

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"We'll simply let practice execution be our guide on what we emphasize and minimize," Tomlin said. "He has knowledge of the offense."

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It's going to be a tall task for Jones to step in and defeat the Patriots, the top team in the AFC. With Tom Brady back in the lineup the past two weeks, New England's offense has looked nearly unstoppable since a Week 4 loss to Buffalo.

Brady has completed 76 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdowns and no interceptions while leading the Patriots to victories against the Cincinnati Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.

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What does Tomlin admire about Brady?

"His pinpoint accuracy, his field vision, his ability to extend," Tomlin said. "But there's not anything he doesn't do well, so I'm not giving you any new earth-shattering or groundbreaking information here."

-- The Steelers signed veteran cornerback Will Gay to a three-year contract in March because they believed he still had plenty left in his 31-year old body. Tomlin named him a team captain before the season as well as one of his starting corners.

But Gay and the rest of the secondary have struggled through the first six weeks of the season, and Tomlin mentioned Gay twice during his weekly news conference for plays he did not make against Miami.

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The first play was when Gay allowed Dolphins tight end MarQueis Gray to get behind him for a 53-yard gain that set up a field goal. The second was a dropped interception in Miami territory that prevented the Steelers from adding to an early 8-3 lead.

The Steelers are 31st in the NFL in pass defense and no one in the defensive backfield has an interception yet.

"We had a pressure structure where Will Gay had an opportunity to intercept a ball," Tomlin said. "It was a significant possession. Could've changed the climate of that first half, and we didn't hang on to that ball. We have to do things to increase the probability of those things and create the climate for those things to happen. The opportunities are there. We have to do a better job of capitalizing on the ones that do exist."

-- All signs are pointing to the Steelers committing to the running game against the Patriots. The Steelers handed the ball off to Le'Veon Bell just 10 times against the Dolphins, who entered the game with the NFL's worst rush defense. The Patriots are 28th in the league and the Steelers will be playing with a backup quarterback, so it seems almost a certainty they'll try to run more Sunday.

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"Sometimes we do get to the point where we are passing a lot," said Bell, who rushed for 53 yards against Miami. "The offensive line likes to run the ball. I like doing what they like to do. I'm not a guy who always complains about carries. Whatever it takes to win a game - whether I have four carries or 34 carries - I want do that."

Tomlin said the circumstances in the Dolphins game - falling behind in the first half and the inability to convert third downs - led to more passing than running.

"We lost our personality a little bit as that game unfolded because of the lack of possession or the total number of snaps," he said. "That balance that you speak of is what we seek. We didn't establish a lot of rhythm in that football game, because of our inability to execute and convert third downs. And we turned the ball over some, which has been uncharacteristic of us."

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