Former Steeler Vrabel a Key Player for Patriots

Former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Vrabel enjoyed another strong season with the New England Patriots and will be trying for another ring in Super Bowl XXXVIII. <br><br>Vrabel, who had a tremendous game against Indianapolis in the AFC championship game, is a key cog in the Patriots' defense.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick credited Vrabel's play in pushing the Patriots past the Colts and into the path of the NFC champion Carolina Panthers.

"Mike is one of our smartest and most versatile players and we ask him to do a lot of different things," Belichick said. "He plays tight end on offense, plays on the special teams units and does a multitude of jobs defensively."

"Whether he's a lineman in sub situations or a linebacker in coverage situations, he moves around to different spots on the line. He's a real instinctive guy and a very flexible person. Mike's one of those guys where he can do this and do that and nothing seems to bother him."

"Not everybody is like that. He's very mentally and physically flexible. He's got a variety of skills with athleticism, size and power. He can match up against a lot of different types of people. So he's a great weapon to have on defense."

Vrabel will be playing in his second Super Bowl in three seasons since coming to New England from the Steelers as a free agent on March 16, 2001. He led the team with 9 1/2 sacks despite missing three games after breaking his arm against the Jets.

Vrabel closed out the season with 48 solo tackles, 21 assists, two interceptions, four passes defensed, four forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

The Patriots put intense pressure on Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship game and Vrabel was a big part of that.

Vrabel would line up opposite Colts center Jeff Saturday. Once Saturday committed to blocking him, Vrabel would drop back in pass coverage. Vrabel left Saturday with nobody to block and an exposed lane to Manning or tailback Edgerrin James.

"It was just a different way to get some pressure but at the same time play zone coverage," Vrabel told the Boston Herald. "It was effective; it got somebody into the pocket on the running back or the quarterback."

"I was just trying to get in a throwing lane and have (Manning) see me and hold it or throw the ball over my head. After (Saturday) blocked at me, he wasn't blocking anybody else, so it was just a four-man rush."

"We gave some different looks, but we still basically played cover-2 out of it. I think every week we have a great game plan and I don't think this week will be any different in the Super Bowl."

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