Commentary

Can we trust this Pats D yet?

Yes, it's improving, but how it handles the Eagles' offense could be telling

Updated: November 22, 2011, 10:03 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Instead of the traditional five observations in Bruschi On Tap, we've switched things up to a weekly Q and A, with fans reflecting on the Patriots' win over the Chiefs on Monday night. Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. ET to have your question considered. Here we go …

Q. Tedy, why is Andre Carter playing so well in New England? I went to high school with him here in San Jose and he dominated. It's nice to see him playing at a high level again. -- Mark (San Jose, Calif.)

A. Mark, Andre Carter has always been a consistent professional. The thing about pass rushing is that stats come in bursts at times. You can have a stretch of three or four games in which you put up big numbers, and then you might have low production in other stretches. As long as he's consistently providing some kind of pressure, it's big for the Patriots' defense. He's been doing that.

Q. Tedy, after a night when the defense only allowed 3 points, is it safe to say that they are a much improved unit, or has it been poor execution by the offenses in past weeks that have made the D look so much better? -- Matt (New Jersey)

[+] EnlargeAndre Carter
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaPats defensive end Andre Carter sacks Chiefs quarterback Tyler Palko on Monday night.

A. Matt, it's easy to say the Patriots have gone up against a couple of bad offenses. But I'm going to say it's a little of both. Carter's emergence, along with Kyle Arrington's production -- and this being done without Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty -- you have to give credit when it's due. These players are getting it done. Was it against Tyler Palko and Mark Sanchez? Yes. This week, it might be Michael Vick. We'll see.

Q. When does Bill say Ocho C O and cut him? It is obvious that the only thing that saves Ocho Cincho is his contract and he has a tough climb to make the roster -- let alone help. He does not have a connection with Brady, still doesn't grasp the offense, cuts into playing time of other options when he is in. It is time. -- Shriram (Chennai, India)

A. I don't see Chad Ochocinco being cut. For this team to go far, it needs production from him. Who else do you go to?

Q. Tedy, do you think that the Packers will go undefeated like your Pats team did? -- Pat (Cleveland)

A. Pat, I think they can do it. But I know how hard it's going to be for them. They will have to win games and escape with wins, just like we did in '07.

Q. The Pats had a great pass rush Monday night and got pressure on the QB. Was this a fluke against a poor offense, or signs of good things to come in the future? -- Nate (Needham, Mass.)

A. Carter has been great, but when I see Mark Anderson make a textbook inside move, playing the hands, using his quickness and getting the sack on Palko, that's skill. What these guys are showing is they can get it done.

Q. Hi Tedy, are you as concerned with the offense's slow starts as everyone else seems to be? Of course they haven't been themselves the last month and haven't been clicking right away, but would you agree it's better to start slow and finish strong? The past couple years we've cruised through the regular season, picking apart defenses all four quarters, and it hasn't mattered come playoff time. Am I crazy for thinking this might be the way to get us back on track for the postseason? -- Kelsie (Boston)

A. I think it's a testament to how good your offense is when you are shut down early and then you have the ability to adjust and score a lot of points. That says a lot about your coaching staff and the intelligence of your players.

Q. Who will win the AFC North? -- Kyle (Grove City, Ohio)

A. I like the Ravens. I liked them from the start. I actually chose them to go to the Super Bowl for the AFC. I didn't expect them to be a Jekyll and Hyde team, though. Seeing them lose to Jacksonville and Seattle was discouraging. Who knows what type of team they'll be the rest of the way. This Thursday, at home against the 49ers, will be a huge test.

Q. This team needs to be able to run the ball better and I don't believe BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the answer. I like the way he plays and he doesn't turn the ball over, but he is a safe play (by Bill Belichick) with no upside (he's looking slow to the holes and not breaking tackles). It could be injury related but Green-Ellis, in my opinion, is a solid back to have. Not great but dependable. A back-up. This team needs to give Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen more of a shot to show what they can do, especially with the creampuff schedule they have. Belichick needs to lighten the reins a bit and give the kids a chance to show if they can be game-changers. Ten touches should do it. -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. I'm all for getting the younger running backs playing time at the end of a blowout victory. But right now, you have two backs in their rookie seasons. Leave the heavy lifting to my proven back, Green-Ellis. What do you mean he's not breaking tackles? Are we watching the same game? Happy Thanksgiving.

Q. Tedy, Trent Dilfer, after the game last night, said the Pats are going nowhere because of their defense. Do you agree with this assessment? I feel that the AFC has no powerhouse teams and with Belichick and Brady anything is possible. -- Jon K. (Bangor, Maine)

A. No one knows how this defense will be playing come playoff time, not even Trent Dilfer. There is such a thing called improvement. Couple that with so many variables that no one can explain -- turnovers, big plays on special teams, penalties, replay reversals. This team still is in the hunt for a championship.

Q. Obviously with this team, the regular season doesn't really mean much. We've seen them do well and then tank in the playoffs. Can you give us your opinion on what makes a successful playoff defense and does this team have the ability to get to that point? -- Walt (New York)

A. Walt, the first thing that comes to mind is being able to stop the run. But that factor is from a time when running the football was more important in this league. Many teams are now pass-heavy. A good playoff defense to me, now, is one that takes the ball away. So look at the defenses across the league that are taking the ball away, and those are defenses that will do well in the playoffs.

Q. Is there much difference in facing a left-handed vs a right-handed QB? If so, does facing Palko help even remotely getting us ready for Vick next week, even though Vick is obviously significantly different. -- Brett (North Dakota)

A. There are different aspects of a left-handed QB. Different release point in the pocket. Different direction of bootlegs and rollouts. To answer the question, yes. To face another left-handed QB in consecutive weeks is a small advantage. I answer all questions here!

Q. Tedy,Thanks for the chat! It seems like the Pats have had injuries to key players pretty much every week this season. Two questions: 1) Do you think the rash of injuries is related to the lockout? 2) Why didn't BB substitute more depth players in the fourth quarter Monday night when the game was in hand? What message is he trying to send at the risk of unecessary injuries?Thanks! -- J. King (Andover)

A. I thought Bill Belichick did that Monday night, especially with getting Vereen carries at the end. We also saw Marcus Cannon. But you're right; these injuries are very concerning because the Patriots are starting to run out of players. It's almost getting to the point where you need an official depth chart to know these players. To ask a team to improve is one thing. To ask a team to improve when player after player after player goes down is difficult to do because one thing you need to improve is continuity.

Q. Hi Tedy, Last week in your chat you mentioned that the team needed a second guy to step up and be a pass-rushing threat to complement Andre Carter. Mark Anderson looks like he might be that guy. Do you agree? -- Rob (Manhattan)

A. I do. Sometimes sack numbers can be misleading. What I mean is pushing the QB out of bounds before the line of scrimmage is a sack. Or when others hold up the QB and you finish him off, that's also a sack. But Anderson has been winning one-on-one battles the past few weeks to get his sacks, and that's a great sign.

Q. At 7-3, the No. 1 seed in AFC, and the Eagles, Colts, Redskins, Broncos, Dolphins and Bills round out the sked. If the Pats play the last six games the way they did Monday night, do you see them going 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2? -- Rich (New Jersey)

A. I'm going to say 5-1. The Eagles will be tough this week, and I think we've all seen this team lose its focus at times. The Patriots are in the running for a first-round bye. Their remaining schedule is the easiest in the NFL. Things look good for the Patriots' playoff hopes.

Q. Is anyone worried about the pressure the Chiefs were able to get on Tom Brady

A. That was one of my big concerns.

Q. We should be talking about what a great catch for a TD Rob Gronkowski made against the Jets. but now the story is the fine for the spike and the appeal. The NFL loses when the fines become the story instead of the game being the story. Fans are sick of this. Tedy what are your thoughts on this? Do the players want the process for handing out fines changed or are they alright with this because they agreed to play in the league? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)

A. Players have no say when it comes to fines. There are many fines I agree with and many I disagree with. I don't think Gronk tried to taunt a Jets player. Gronk spikes the ball harder than anyone else in the NFL. That's what the official saw. I'm sure this is a fine that can be reduced because the intent was not there. A lot of times, fans don't hear about the reduction in fines.

[+] EnlargeShane Vereen
Stew Milne/US PresswireRookies such as Shane Vereen, who saw action Monday night, could see a lot more as Pats injuries pile up.

Q. Do you think the Eagles could be a sleeper playoff team or just a sleeper period? -- Mike (Upper Darby, Pa.)

A. It's a steep mountain to climb for the Eagles. It's possible, but right now I don't see it.

Q. I don't think I've ever seen Sebastian Vollmer get beat as bad as he did by Tamba Hali on the inside rush. -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. Thanks, Eric.

Q. How far can Oakland make it in the playoffs? -- O. Franco (West Coast, California)

A. When I think about the class of the AFC right now, I think Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New England. I'm curious to see how Matt Leinart plays for the Texans. I don't believe Oakland is an elite AFC team right now.

Q. Why do you suppose BB went for a TD at the last minute when the game was already in the bag? -- Charles (Los Angeles)

A. This topic is always kicked around after a blowout win by New England. You just have to ask yourself the question, "Would you rather continue to run your offense and see whether the other team can stop you or take a guaranteed three points?" To me, it's almost more of a testament of fair play when you continue to run plays rather than just say, "We'll take the three." Also, as previously talked about in this chat, how do you develop younger players by kicking a field goal?

Q. Harder challenge: reaching the Super Bowl or summiting Kilimanjaro? -- Andy (Hartford, Conn.)

A. Andy, I would say it was harder to win the Super Bowl. To be able to get 53 guys to play at a championship level -- not only are you trying to win a championship, but so many other talented players and teams are trying to stop you from doing it.

Q. It feels like everybody's favorite pastime is bagging on the Pats' defense. Blah blah worst in the league, blah blah most yards given up, blah blah no way they can win in the playoffs. Why isn't that critical eye turned toward the Packers too? They aren't exactly stuffing it on D. I know the Pats' defense has much to improve, but is the difference purely the W-L record? BTW, my 4-year-old son Logan totally rocks his Bruschi 54 jersey on game days. -- Jane (New York)

A. The wins and losses are the No. 1 statistic, but here are two others to look at -- points against and takeaways.

Q. How unusual is it for a player to be asked to play on the other side of the ball as Julian Edelman has? What does it take for a player to be able to do it successfully? Should we expect to see more of it? -- Bill (Beverly)

A. Bill, what's very unusual is that a player can do it successfully. You not only have to have ability, but you have to have football instincts to be able to know the right thing to do in so many situations. These types of players are rare. Edelman might be one of them.

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th-anniversary team.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

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