- Tedy Bruschi, Columnist, ESPN.com
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Instead of five observations from the Patriots' win over the Raiders, we're back this week to answer some questions from fans. Despite the win, there were still plenty of issues that fans wanted to discuss. Here we go:
Q: Tedy, If Jerod Mayo has to miss a few weeks do you think Guyton or Spikes has the ability to be as productive as Mayo? -- Ernie (La Mirada, Calif.)
Tedy: I don't think they will have the opportunity to be as productive. They won't be playing every down. If Jerod was healthy, he'd be there every down. Now I see more of a rotation. Spikes -- the physical, early-down LB, then Guyton coming in as a sub linebacker. Also look for Dane Fletcher to be looked upon to contribute.
Q: When we get Hernandez back and can get back to our two TE sets, with a new emerging threat in the backfield topped with the headache of another great pass catching TE, do we ever score under 30 points this season? -- Brett (North Dakota)
Tedy: Unfortunately, it looks like this team is going to need close to 30 points to win, especially with the injury to Mayo. Until the defense solves some of its problems, the offense will have to score at a high rate. With Hernandez, that's very possible.
Q: Did you see any improvement in any phase of the defense that fans can be encouraged by. -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)
Tedy: I saw the coaches mixing in a little more zone coverage. I think that's a philosophy they need to stick with. Asking these defensive backs to cover man to man on a consistent basis is a very tough thing to do. Mixing in some zone coverages, you aren't as predictable, and they'll need to be that way as the season progresses.
Q: Tedy, what do you think the problem is with the Pats defense? Seems like we can neither get pressure nor cover the WRs. I don't think we can blame on the short preseason any more four games into the regular season. -- Dan (Burlington, Mass.)
Tedy: I think the problem is that they're losing one-on-one battles. Pass rushing is about beating the man in front of you. When you major in man-to-man coverage, it's about covering the WR and not letting him catch the ball. Right now, those are the battles they are losing. To remedy that, players just have to play better. I know that probably isn't the answer you're looking for, but right now, that's all it's about.
Q: This defense is not bad, but it is not good enough to depend on to help beat the top tier teams in the league. I just don't see enough elite talent on the defensive side of the ball. Do you? -- Eric (Mass.)
Tedy: In terms of elite players, you start with Vince Wilfork and the work he's doing. He's not really a pass-rush demon, but sometimes what he does doesn't get noticed on the stat sheet. He requires double-teams, and surprisingly, he's close to the team lead in INTs. That's how special of an athlete he is. With the loss of Mayo, and Devin McCourty not off to a strong start, if you're looking to the next elite player, my eyes go to Patrick Chung. He's going to have to do things now, and pick up the slack, with Mayo injured.
Q: Hey Tedy, I keep hearing people saying that "this team hasn't improved from last year." While I agree that they have yet to show improvement, they were 14-2 last year, right? I know they lost a first round playoff game, but that's still a damn good football team. What do you think? If the defense doesnt get any better, is this a Super Bowl contender? -- Zack (Somerville, Mass.)
Tedy: This is a bottom-line business, and are they winning football games? After the first quarter of the season, they are tied for the lead in the AFC East. That's all you can ask for. Jason Campbell made the mistake of the game by throwing the ball to Patrick Chung in the end zone. But it was still a red zone stop. Just when it looked like the game could go one way, Chung made the play, the Raiders drive ended, and the Patriots scored a field goal to go up 10. They're winning games. I still believe this team will be there in the end, in the playoffs. What they do with it is up to them.
Q: Why do we have to believe in this team? I do not see them getting past the first or second round of playoffs. They will sure reach playoffs since they have an easy schedule -- Chiefs, Cowboys, Dolphins, Colts and Broncos are easy wins ( which takes them to eight). and they will beat Bills the second time and win one of the Jets game and that makes it 10, and would be able to get in there. -- RK (Acton, Mass.)
Tedy: Who are you scared of in the AFC? What other teams are out there playing better than New England? The Ravens won last night, but they looked sloppy. You've already beaten San Diego. The Steelers aren't the same right now. The Texans look legit, but they have problems, too. This is another big test this week against the Jets. The Patriots are right there with the best teams in the AFC.
Q: Tedy, after Week 4, it's clear that every team (except maybe the Packers) is flawed in at least one major way. For the Pats that flaw is obviously the defense. But with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and a running game that seems to be on the upswing, I like our chances in the AFC. If the defense improves just a bit -- a healthy and motivated Albert Haynesworth would help -- I think the Pats are the team to beat in the AFC. Do you agree? -- Tom (Portland)
Tedy: Tom, I do agree. To travel coast to coast and beat a solid Raiders team is a tough thing to do. I'll give you two things to look for during the upcoming game against the Jets. One is that the offense has to take care of the ball. If they turn the ball over like they did against Buffalo, that's going to be a long day. With the defense allowing teams to move up and down the field, getting turnovers and big stops in the red zone is key. That will help them go far.
Q: Tedy, do you see Ridley slowly becoming the teams No. 1 back? I know, they will still go with BJGE [BenJarvus Green-Ellis] plenty, as well as Woody [Danny Woodhead] if healthy, but do you think Belichick would allow a rookie to take the "No. 1" job if he keeps up with this production? -- Tim (Newton, Mass.)
Tedy: If Ridley outplays BenJarvus Green-Ellis, then Ridley will be the starter. It doesn't matter if he's a rookie or not. This team is performance-based. If you earn the right to start, they will give you the opportunity. Having said that, I feel BJGE is solid. He's a great runner, he takes care of the football, and when you need the tough yards, he can get them. It's yet to be seen how good this Ridley kid is, but for me right now, BJGE would be my go-to guy in the running game.
Q: What is your take on officiating this year? It has seemed more inconsistent than typical; personal and flagrant fouls are apparently called on a whim and quality on more routine calls like holding seems to be lacking. Brendan Shanahan and NHL have recently set the bar in explanation and transparency with their video review of controversial plays. Any chance a modified version of this is incorporated by the NFL? Thanks for your time. -- Peter (Vermont)
Tedy: At times it seems like the lockout affected officiating too. That call in the Giants' game, with Victor Cruz getting up after laying on the ground, should have been a fumble. Sometimes I don't know what officials are looking at.
Q: Hey Tedy, What would you say to this defense if you were still in the locker room? Do you think it is a problem with communication or with the skill level of the players they have? -- Craig (Ottawa, Ontario)
Tedy: I think it's a little of both. Last week, you saw some communication issues on the Scott Chandler TD in the red zone, and pass rushing is all about winning one-on-one battles; they haven't been doing that. They're working on it.
Q: What a season Welker is having! Do you think he can keep it up? He might have 2,000 yards receiving. The guy is fearless! -- Sstuart (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Tedy: And he's also tough. He has to be, because a couple times each game he takes big shots. Wes is learning to save the equipment, which means he's going down before he gets hit, or going out of bounds. If he continues to do that, I see no reason why he won't keep this up the entire year. I should have drafted him in fantasy.
Q: Tedy, if you could improve one thing on the defense with our current team, what would it be? I think health is becoming an issue but do we need another safety to stabilize our secondary. It seems like McCourty thrived having Sanders and Meriwather last year -- any correlation? -- Mike (Providence, R.I.)
Tedy: I think you hit it on the head. The safety position is a concern. I don't know what Sergio Brown was seeing at times during the game -- poor angles, bad tackling. Those are two of the top requirements you need as a safety because you are the last line of defense. If you take a bad angle on a deep ball, it's six points. Brown has to step up his game as the season progresses.
Q: Bill Belichick an overrated coach? 14-2 last year was due to Brady and nothing else, do you agree? -- RK (Acton, Mass.)
Tedy: I disagree. It's hard to win in the NFL. When you're able to win 14 games, it's an accomplishment not only from a coaching-staff perspective, but players also have to get it done. They still have players performing at a high level. There were years when Super Bowl teams couldn't win 14 games. That 14-win total reflects highly on the coaching staff.
Q: Tedy, thanks for the Chat! Can I get your impression of Stevan Ridley ... kid looks like he may be special. -- John (New York)
Tedy: I'm holding off on the word "special" right now when it comes to Ridley. He hits the holes well. He seems explosive. He's just young. I need some more body of work on him before coming to a conclusion. But the arrow is pointing up for this kid right now.
Q: What has been the key to the Lions success so far? -- Logan (North Carolina)
Tedy: Let me get back to you on that one, Logan.
Q: Tedy, simple question: If Bill is such a defensive genius, why can't he coach a defense that looks even remotely close to the Ravens or even Jets? It boggles the mind that a BB led team is statictically the worst in the league. Please shed some light on this. Thanks. -- Kenny M (Boston)
Tedy: This is also a defense in transition, going from a 3-4 to a 4-3, and bringing in players that are new to your defensive philosophy. There will be growing pains, especially when you didn't have an entire offseason to implement your core defensive values. This first quarter of the season, for all teams across the NFL, was an extended preseason. As the season progresses from this point forward, the identity of all teams should be discovered.
Q: The hype coming into the season was primarily based around two guys, OchoCinco and Haynesworth. Your thoughts so far? -- Jake (Denver)
Tedy: I don't have any thoughts on Haynesworth because he hasn't given us anything to base our opinions on. He hasn't seen the field enough. Back injuries can be serious with defensive linemen. Sometimes it hurts when you get into your stance. If it's that serious, there is a problem. Hopefully he can get healthy and rejoin this team and start contributing. On Chad, he had two catches for 26 yards. He still hasn't made a big impact. It looked like he majored in the two-minute offense in the game, and Edelman and Slater got more of the reps throughout the game. Right now, I think Ochocinco's lack of production is going unnoticed due to the incredible season Wes Welker is having. As long as Aaron Hernandez is hurt, Chad will still have a chance to contribute more.
Q: Do you think not having a dedicated defensive coordinator who gives the D his undivided attention is hurting the team? The identity of our D unit is still in the making, but I think it could be helped along with a proper defensive coordinator. Not that BB's football mind won't cut it, but his attention is divided across the entire team. I think the D has the talent overall (maybe could use more depth, especially with the injuries) but they don't seem to be dialing it to their capabilities. Thoughts? -- Gurari (Boston)
Tedy: I don't think so. They've got several great defensive minds on that coaching staff, with Bill Belichick leading the way. Also, Matt Patricia and Pepper Johnson, they know what they're doing. To give a title at this point I don't think is important. They all work together well.
Q: While we're all loving Wes Welker's fantastic numbers, shouldn't it be concerning that we're so reliant on him? In the playoff loss to the Ravens we didn't have Welker, and in the loss to the Jets in the playoffs their zone defense took Welker out of the game. -- Richard (San Diego)
Tedy: That's a great point. I've been thinking about that myself and I still can't figure it out why teams don't pay more attention to Welker. Having said that, I don't believe that will be the case this week. Rex Ryan will find a way to take Welker out of the game and force others to make plays. I think it would be huge if Aaron Hernandez made his return this week, and the Patriots can get back to those two-TE sets, which makes it difficult to defend the run and pass at the same time. Let's see what a defensive mind like Rex Ryan will do against the No. 1 QB/WR tandem in the NFL.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th-anniversary team. Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.
The Patriots' defense is still the root of numerous questions.