It's Championship week. Let's talk some football!
Q. Come on, I understand Brady and Co. is going to say in 2009, we had a different team. But how much of that Ravens beat down is still in their heads? -- Mo (Houston, Texas)
A. To me, that's gone. They'll remember it and possibly even watch the film. But this is a totally different team. In 2010, the Ravens came in here and the Patriots beat them in overtime. I know I sound like one of the players, but it truly isn't about the past. It's about who plays better on Sunday.
Q. Tedy, can you provide a behind the scenes look at how coach Belichick will work in/allude to the 2009 Ravens Patriots playoff game, in preparing for this game, if at all? -- George (Warwick, R.I.)
A. When you prepare for a team, if coaching staffs are similar and coordinators are similar (e.g., Cam Cameron is still the offensive coordinator there), there are a series of plays that are called cut-ups. These cut-ups can go back as far as two to three years. Even further sometimes, when you're preparing for an opponent. All of the past plays from meetings with the Ravens will be part of cut-ups. Watching Ray Rice going 80-plus yards over and over this week could turn into motivation for these Patriots players.
Q. Hey Tedy, Can you describe the move that Ninkovich is using to get around the offensive tackle, like he did on his strip sack, where he does a pull-forward of the tackle. It's a move Vrabel used to always do. The replays never pick up what's happening on the inside with the hands that makes that move work … Thanks! -- Jason (Burlington, VT)
A. One of Vrabel's favorite moves was the hand slap. This move is best set up by threatening with the bull rush. Once the offensive lineman thinks the bull rush is coming as Vrabel/Ninkovich come directly at him, the offensive lineman puts his hands forward to deliver a blow. Right at that moment, Vrabel would slap the hands down and change his rush to an edge rush. This got the offensive lineman's weight going forward as Vrabel slapped his hands and continued his edge rush. And once you get an offensive lineman's weight moving forward with his head down, you have him beat. Ninkovich is starting to become a big-time player. He's starting to incorporate similar moves.
Q. Hi Tedy, I think too many fans think the Ravens won't be a huge challenge. While I think the offense will be able to score well, I also think this game is more about the Pats defense. What do you see as the best approach to Flacco and the Ravens offense? -- Joseph (Providence, R.I.)
A. I'm going to bring the Broncos into this, then circle back to the Ravens. Tim Tebow had a great year. It was an accomplishment to lead his team to the playoffs, but the Denver offense became inept once the Patriots got out to a lead. The Ravens will be an even bigger test. This Ravens offense can do more than run the ball. If anyone thinks this is going to be a blowout, you're greatly mistaken. So to stop this Ravens offense, start by accounting for Ray Rice wherever he is. That's a big task in and of itself.
Q. Hello Tedy, Baltimore has had trouble on the road and, more importantly, with experienced passing quarterbacks (Philip Rivers), how do they stop this offense, especially if we go no-huddle? Also, the defensive intensity has really ramped up, do you think this unit feels a little overlooked? -- Jim (N.H.)
A. The tempo the Patriots used to start the game against the Broncos was incredible. It makes it very difficult for defenses to adjust properly when the pace is so fast. One thing to watch for is up-the-middle pressure on Brady. There was none of it on Saturday. This is where the injuries at offensive center might come into play. Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' big DL, is someone who can cause problems for the Patriots. On the defense, stars are starting to develop. Ninkovich has to be in the conversation, and I think Spikes could have a huge game this week.
Q. Do you think 49ers have finally proved to the world they are Super Bowl worthy? Or are they overrated or underrated? -- Larry Tipper (Rocklin, Calif.)
A. The 49ers are Super Bowl-worthy. I didn't think they could do what they did against the New Orleans Saints. That was Alex Smith's breakout party. The safeties on that defense were crushing those receivers. That team is legit.
Q. Was the Pats pass rush really better this week or was the Denver O-line just terrible -- and do you think the pass rush is key to defeating the Ravens? -- Mary (Walpole, Mass.)
A. I like what Ninkovich did in getting to the passer, but I think what's more important is up-the-middle pressure against Joe Flacco. Getting Flacco off the spot will be one of their main goals. The spot is an area in the pocket, five to six yards behind the center. That's where Flacco is best. Move him off of that and he's less accurate. Interior rush will be huge.
Q. Hi Tedy, appreciate you doing this. Who is the x-factor of this game? I keep thinking that one of these days, Ocho will show up and win us the game, will this Sunday be the one? Thanks. -- Ryan (Boise)
A. When you get only one snap in the biggest game of the year, that says enough to me. If Ochocinco becomes a factor, I'd be very surprised. The real X-factors for the Patriots will be Dan Connolly, Logan Mankins and Brian Waters. Can they handle Haloti Ngata? Defensively, let's go Jerod Mayo. The Mayo versus Rice matchup -- whoever wins that will be a big factor in who wins the game.
Q. How are the Ravens going to stop Welker, Gronk and Hernandez? -- David (Chelmsford, Mass.)
A. That's a question few have had the answer for this year, especially now that Bill O'Brien is lining up Hernandez all over the offensive formation. I'm surprised at how well Hernandez has done at running back. It's possible to take two of the three away. But taking all 3 away is virtually impossible on a down to down basis. It will be a matter of Brady figuring out, after the snap of the ball, who they have decided to take away, then finding the open receiver.
Q. Hey Tedy! First of all I want to tell you how I'm a big fan of your work and what you accomplished in your years as a Patriot. Very basic question here: If the Patriots make it past the Ravens, which team would you rather see them play in Indy, the 49ers or the Giants? Both teams are playing great football and it seems like an odd match-up either way. Tom Brady can either play his favorite childhood team, or get a shot at redemption against the Giants. -- Phil (Trumbull)
A. I'd like to see the Patriots play the Giants. I would love to see that rematch.
Q. Tedy, Stevan Ridley's fumbling issues are apparently keeping him off the field. Do you believe it is strictly his on field game miscues which are limiting him or would the coaches be seeing a similar issue with ball security during practice? What do the coaches have to see in practice to regain confidence in him? He has a nice burst and offers a skill set that BJGE doesn't exhibit as clearly. Thanks -- Munchkin (Glenwood Springs, Colo.)
A. Ridley deserves playing time, yes. I myself, personally, would rather see Green-Ellis in there right now, and ball security is one of the main reasons why. At this time of the year, it's all about ball security.
Q. Tedy: Defense looked strong Saturday. How much of that do you think carries over this week? Looks to me like they were very disciplined, staying on their assignments, and that approach can help contain Rice on those draws and screens. -- Dan (Hamilton, Mass.)
A. This week will be interesting to me, and I'll tell you why. They spent two weeks preparing for a college offense -- spread option, QB run, play-action passes. So after two weeks of that, they're back to preparing for traditional football. It is an adjustment. Now they have to defend multiple weapons.
Q. Tedy, Why do I keep hearing people saying the Brady window is closing as if it's rapidly upon us. As far as I can tell his last 4 seasons of football included, the TD record, an MVP season, 5,000 yards passing and a record for TDs to a TE and a lot of winning. From my point of view in Section 227, Brady is just hitting his prime. I could see us enjoying another 7-8 years of Brady and he's said as much. Do you think the "window is closing" with Brady or did it just open? -- Bobby D (Watertown, Mass.)
A. Why you keep hearing this is simple: There are a lot of morons out there (insert laugh). Never underestimate that guy. I know from personal experience.
Q. Are you surprised by Alex Smith's clutch performance in the last 4 minutes against the Saints? -- The Fool (Dublin, Calif.)
A. I was very surprised. After the Jimmy Graham TD, I looked at the clock and saw the time, and I didn't think the Saints left too much time. I don't see Alex Smith in the same light as Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Eli Manning. Maybe this is the beginning of him becoming one of those clutch players.
Q. The defensive front 7 looked aggressive and dominated Denver's offensive line Saturday. How do you think they match up with Baltimore's O line? Can they be as dominant this Sunday? -- Bernard (Indy)
A. This defense can be dominant. These are players who have taken their knocks for the past two years, hearing about how they can't win in the playoffs. These guys have paid their dues. It's now their time. Their time to break out. Their time to be talked about as part of the reason why this team is winning. This team deserves to be in the AFC Championship Game in part because of this defense. This game is another chance to claim their own identity.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team.