Commentary

Defense showing encouraging signs

On a day when the offense struggled some, the D stepped up for the Patriots

Updated: October 17, 2011, 6:36 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Instead of the traditional five observations in the Bruschi On Tap, we're switching things up on a more permanent basis to a weekly Q-and-A with fans posted every Monday. Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. to have your question considered. Here we go …

Q: What did you think of [Brandon] Spikes' play yesterday? Is he starting to get it, and should we expect him to only get better? -- Hoogie (Lexington, Mass.)

A: For the Patriots right now, Brandon Spikes is doing exactly what they want him to do on first and second down. He's being aggressive in the running game, he takes on blocks and he does a great job when they send him on blitzes. I thought he was very physical with Phil Costa, the Cowboys' center, and was able to get push in the pocket and penetration in the running game. He still needs to get better in coverage, but going straight ahead, he's dangerous.

Q: Tedy: How nice was it to see [Tom] Brady in true form again last night. Was there any doubt that he would led the Pats to a touchdown in the final seconds? -- Evan (Auburn, Ala.)

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesTom Brady threw for 289 yards and two TDs on Sunday.

A: I was especially impressed with the caliber of that drive because of the talent of the Dallas defense. There is talent on the Dallas defense, with brains behind that talent in Rob Ryan. Put those two together and it's a solid unit. It was impressive to see what he did.

Q: Ted do you think the Patriots rely too much on Tom Brady in games where there are multiple turnovers? -- Antonin (North Attleboro, Mass.)

A: This was a perfect example of the team winning when Brady doesn't throw for 400 yards and four touchdowns. The defense rose to the occasion numerous times. They did a good job of playing "sudden change" defense. That's what happens when the defense takes the field after a turnover. They came through with holding the Cowboys to a field goal and coming up with a turnover of their own (Vince Wilfork forces it, Gerard Warren recovers). This type of game I've been waiting to see for a long time.

Q: Hey Tedy, can we still write [Devin] McCourty's performance off as tough matchups? It looked like he struggled with easy tackles and QBs have not hesitated to throw at him since the season started. -- Eliott (Marion, Mass.)

A: When a DB misses tackles, it makes it look worse. It's one thing to allow a completion, but another thing to miss a tackle and the WR goes for extra yardage. Bill Belichick addressed the missed tackles in his news conference. That's a problem that shouldn't be showing up six weeks into the season.

Q: Tedy, while it wasn't the prettiest win yesterday, could this have been one of our best wins to date this season. I say that because this could be a huge confidence builder for the D, which actually played just as big a role in the win as the offense did. So much of the game is mental, will this be a huge mental boost for the D? -- Erik (Bolton Landing, N.Y.)

A: It will be, because there were four turnovers (one on special teams). That made them minus-2 in the turnover differential. To win a game like that boosts the confidence of a defense tremendously. After a game like this, the defense can say "We can win without the offense scoring 30 points."

Q: Tedy, Last week the Pats' D held the Jets in check but most people didn't give the D credit and instead claimed the Jets' offense was just bad. This week the Pats' D came up huge against a very good offense. With the bye week to get healthy and work on some fundamentals can we expect the defense to continue to improve and regain some of the respect it had lost beginning the season? -- Dan (Coventry, Conn.)

A: I think everyone should expect that, because now the defense has shown it can do it against a solid offensive unit. The Cowboys' pass offense was ranked No. 3 in the NFL. They've shown they can do it, so now you should start to expect it.

Q: The Ocho experiment appears to have run its course with the final test being the "Tank" play. The fact that the Patriots ran a designed play specifically for Ocho after a TV timeout and he still ran the wrong route shows that he's a waste of a roster spot on this very deep team. Do you see the team finally cutting him this week and if yes, do they make a trade for Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd (I think they cut him but don't trade for Lloyd)? -- Eric (Mass.)

A: What I saw on that play was Brady looking to Aaron Hernandez first. The first look was to his right. Brady saw penetration that would have stopped the potential play, and then turned back to Chad. Chad wasn't the first read, and the way Brady looked to Hernandez, it didn't seem like he was trying to look off the safety. Chad just has to expect the ball every down, because if Brady doesn't see something he likes, he throws to the guy who is open. Right now, we'll just have to see on Brandon Lloyd. [Editor's note: Lloyd was traded to St. Louis after this went up.]

Q: That was some curious play calling for the Cowboys on the three-and-out series just before the Patriots got the ball for the final drive. What did you think of that? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)

A: It was conservative, but it played into their game plan for the entire day. They were running the ball with a purpose -- to take time off the clock, to take a possession or two away from Brady and the offense. At the end of the game, you want your best player on the field. I can understand the logic of punting the ball away and letting your defense play, which had been playing well the entire day. Truthfully, the Cowboys' best player is on defense, in DeMarcus Ware.

Judging by the ups and downs that Tony Romo has had, with an interception to open the game, what would you do?

Q: Tedy -- Who said the Patriots can't rush the passer!!! And I know you loved my celebration, did you see those hops? -- Andre Carter (probably not the real one)

A: (Laughing) Andre, I had a few memorable celebrations in my time, too. I'm digging the hops. Hoping to see more hops in the weeks to come.

Q: Hi Tedy -- do you think Albert Haynesworth is making progress and will he become more of a factor in the second half of the season? -- Frank Wertheim (Kennebunk, Maine)

A: He showed up yesterday, pushing the pocket, contributing to tackles in the backfield. It looked like he was interested. That's a start. If he stays healthy, that's a guy they'll need.

Q: Tedy, at this stage of the season, could Taylor Price be any worse than Ochocinco? Ocho was not even close to the pass from TB and I see no communication between them on the bench. Isn't it time to give Price a chance to gain that connection with TB? -- Barb (Conn.)

A: One thing I know about this coaching staff is that they don't care how much anyone gets paid. They feel it's a performance-based business, and if you show you deserve reps, you'll get them. Remember, there are also multiple days of practice where they can evaluate Chad Ochocinco and Taylor Price, and we are not able to see what unfolds in those practices. They obviously feel Ochocinco is the better option.

Q: Hi Tedy, as a player, what type of game is more satisfying to win -- a game like Dallas where you don't have your best game but you still manage to pull out a victory against a good team, or a game like Miami where you win pretty convincingly and the game is never really in question. Or are all wins the same? -- Rob (Providence, R.I.)

A: Both types are enjoyable, but when you're in a situation where your defense is being questioned, this is exactly the type of win that you want. It's a win where the offense struggles, they turn the ball over, wide receivers are called for false starts, offensive linemen are called for holding, mental errors, turnovers -- and the defense still comes through. They played solid "sudden change" defense against a good Cowboys offense. Being ranked last in the NFL, this is exactly what the Patriots' defense needed.

Q: Hi Tedy. Very happy with the win. Should I be encouraged that the Pats were able to grind out more than 100 yards on the ground? Doesn't this keep the other defense honest? And exactly what we'll need later in the year? -- Andy (Berkshires)

A: Definitely, and that was 101 yards on the ground against the NFL's No. 1-ranked rush defense. Offensively, by using the hurry-up, it takes the aggressiveness away from the defense. You're worried about having the right personnel on the field and getting lined up rather than focusing on the opponent in front of you. Rob Ryan used to be my coach. Even though there is a hurry-up situation, he still tries to substitute and stick to his game plan. That's what good coaches do. But when you're going up against an offense like New England, it can take away your No. 1 strength and make it a weakness. No matter what time of year it is, this offense will use what works. If the running game wasn't successful, they wouldn't have stuck with it for so long.

Q: Hi Tedy. What is wrong with the Jets so far in your opinion? Will they beat the Phins tonight? -- LeAnne (Washington)

A: I think the Jets win tonight. The Jets' biggest problem right now, I believe, is internally. Too many reports of dissention in the locker room. This puts a test on your coaching staff. Can Rex Ryan keep the team together when things aren't going his way? If they get to 3-3 tonight, maybe all the bickering goes away.

Q: Bruschi, are the Raiders for real this year? R.I.P. Al Davis. -- Lamar (Oakland)

A: You're sitting at 4-2, and the San Diego Chargers were on a bye. They're very much in the race for the AFC West. I like their formula of running the ball and playing solid defense. They have the personnel to do it.

Q: With Christian Ponder's great performance against the Bears, will he be starting the game against Green Bay? -- Josh (Colorado Springs)

A: I wouldn't call his performance great, but it's a start. I don't know if you want to throw him in the fire against the Packers. Donovan McNabb is obviously struggling. It may be time to make a move.

Q: Tedy, I dont see this defense built for January. We can't bring consistent pressure, our DBs can't pick up the slack, especially McCourty and our LBs look slow and are taking poor angles to the ball. A couple of good performances the last two weeks, but I don't think it's something to be excited about. Your thoughts? -- Chris (Panama)

A: Somebody put coal in your stocking, Chris. I've been critical of the Patriots' defense all season, and this was clearly their best performance. They got pressure on the passer and contained Dallas' third-ranked pass offense. Take a chill pill and enjoy the victory.

Q: Hey Tedy, I was very impressed with Rob Ninkovich's play yesterday on limiting Jason Whitten. what did you take away from his performance? -- Jeff (Lincoln, Neb.)

A: I saw him re-route Witten a few times at the line of scrimmage.

Q: Tom [Brady] has twice the total interceptions from all of last year. Do you see any particular reasons for this? It seems like the offense should be clicking even more than last year based on more time together. -- Jean (New York)

A: Tom can't throw for more than 400 yards every game. There are good players on defense in this league, too. One of the interceptions was a tipped ball. Overall, those projections of him throwing for all those yards and TDs were greatly overstated. He will have games when he struggles, but seeing the defense pick him up was refreshing.

Q: Tedy, do you think the Patriots should be worried about the Bills being in the race for division title? Or should the Jets be their primary worry? -- Shane (Lafayette)

A: I still think the Bills will be there in the end. I don't like what I see from the Jets this year with the struggles of Mark Sanchez and the offensive line. Now you have offensive linemen and receivers having verbal battles through the media. They may be falling apart from within. The Bills are scrappers. They almost pulled off a victory in the Meadowlands against the Giants. I think this team has resolve.

[+] EnlargeTBD
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesBrandon Spikes, left, and Andre Carter, right, celebrate during the Patriots' win over the Cowboys.

Q: Tedy, what are your thoughts on why the Cowboys didn't challenge the Pats deep? Just not their game plan, or was the Patriots' secondary (and pass rush) just obviously improved? -- James (Richmond, Va.)

A: Romo didn't have enough time for those WRs to get down the field. Andre Carter was in the backfield. The combination of Wilfork, Kyle Love, Haynesworth and Spikes were all pressing the pocket. It was the most pressure they've gotten on a QB all year.

Q: Tedy, what did the Pats do against Dallas to put additional pressure on the quarterback that they haven't been able to do in other games? -- Chris Waugh (East Wareham, Mass.)

A: They sent Brandon Spikes up the middle often Sunday. What that does is put Spikes on the center one-on-one. Additionally, it gives the other four defensive linemen one-on-one battles. When they send Spikes, the center isn't able to clean the pocket. Cleaning the pocket is when there is a four-man rush and there is an offensive lineman (center or guard) who doesn't have a rusher to block and he scans the line of scrimmage looking for someone to hit in the ribs, essentially cleaning the pocket.

Let's end on this thought: The bye week is coming up and this is a great opportunity for players who haven't gotten a lot of reps up to this point in the season to get full-speed practice reps. This is a chance for them to get more experience and show they deserve more playing time. It's also a good opportunity for some of your banged-up starters to get rest. Jerod Mayo is a big one. While the defense played well, I could still notice the absence of Mayo. It's nice to go into a bye week of preparation after a win. That means Coach Belichick should be in sort of a good mood, and maybe, just maybe, he goes easy on them. Enjoy the bye week and we'll catch up again next week.

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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