Commentary

Bruschi's Breakdown: Raiders-Pats

Belichick won't admit it, but weak foe might give Pats chance to find themselves

Updated: September 18, 2014, 6:04 PM ET
By Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Every week leading into the Patriots' next game, ESPN NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss preview the matchup. This week, it's the home opener, against the Oakland Raiders (CBS, 1 p.m. ET):

Mike: The Raiders (0-2) are one of the worst teams in the NFL, so let's start with the players' perspective on a week like this. It seems like this is the type of situation that is as much of a mental challenge as anything. When you played, what type of environment did Bill Belichick create in weeks like this?

Tedy: Part of me looks at the Raiders and thinks, "The Patriots should handle them." But being a former player, you can't have that mindset, and maybe that's just the Bill Belichick in me, but the first thing you have to prep for before any game is realizing that you can be beat. There is evidence of that in many games I've played. Bill Belichick talked about the Miami game when we lost to them in the 2004 Super Bowl season. The Super Bowl against the Giants when we were 18-0 and everyone thought we were going to win. Even the Super Bowl win over the Rams is one you can reference.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
Adam Hunger/USA TODAY SportsBill Belichick will never, ever let his team underestimate an opponent. Just ask Tedy Bruschi.

Mike: I'll rattle off a few others: Cleveland in 2010 when the Patriots lost to the Browns 34-14; the 2010 playoff loss to the Jets (28-21) in the divisional round; Arizona in 2012 when the Patriots lost their home opener 20-18.

Tedy: Weeks like these captured why I loved Bill Belichick so much, but also why I hated him so much. I loved him because of the way he coached us hard every single week no matter who we played. He would make legitimate points in the Wednesday meeting, every single day, telling us about the opponent and their positives and why they were an opponent we should respect. When we faced a team that was struggling, he would select certain individual players and highlight what they were capable of. For example, this week, maybe he'd highlight Justin Tuck and what he did in various big games. Or maybe it's Charles Woodson and what he's done in the past or in the season opener when Jets quarterback Geno Smith tried to sneak in a curl route and Woodson dove to make the interception. "You think he has nothing left? Watch this from two weeks ago!"

Mike: That's been a theme with players this week, as one of the talking points has been to tout the Raiders' experience. They had the second-oldest opening day roster in the NFL.

Tedy: This is Bill Belichick forcing players to get the thought out of their minds, if they're thinking it at all, that "there is no way they are beating us." That's a head coach's job, a head coach's responsibility, and it was what I loved so much about being coached by Bill Belichick. At the same time, you'd hate it too, because you wanted to be like, "C'mon Coach, we're going to get these guys!" But as a player, all it took was a few of those upsets, when you lose a game, and you buy in. I think that's why coaches sometimes don't mind those losses at times, because it validates what they say. So Bill Belichick can bring up countless examples of games that a team thought it should win and they went out and got beat.

Mike: I would imagine these were the types of weeks when he might be even tougher on the team, even after a win.

Tedy: I remember times when we might have had a lethargic practice in a week like this and he'd get on us for a lack of focus. "You think you're just going to roll your helmet out, with the Patriots' logo, and those guys will lay down? Who do you think you are? You think you're going to win? Based on what? Based on what??!!" Then he would show lowlights from practice and he'd keep going. "Based on this effort, you think you're going to win? Based on this block, you think you're going to win? Based on this read in pass coverage that we missed, you think we're going to win?" In one respect, you love that about him. But it can beat you up at times, too. I think what it comes down to is this: Sometimes the head coach has to make players hate him to get effort and focus out of them, to have them play with an edge. He did that.

Mike: Let's get into some Raiders personnel, Tedy. They are starting a rookie quarterback, Derek Carr. He reminds me a little bit of Jimmy Garoppolo with a quick release.

Tedy: The first thing you notice is the live arm. It's very strong and it looks like he has the quick release. Right now the coaches seem like they are playing it safe with him, with short to intermediate throws. You throw in some screen passes too. The cadences you hear from him, with the television microphones picking them up, are extremely elementary -- "Set, hut!" I'll never forget, the most complicated cadence I ever heard was from Brett Favre. He would take the snap, and he dropped back and was still saying the cadence. I'd be like, "Oh my gosh, he has the ball, and he's still barking out the cadence!" I was baffled, but it's a reminder that the offense can have an advantage with a complex cadence and snap count. When I hear Carr and "set, hut!" it reminds you of how elementary it is; the type of thing you hear playing with your kids in the yard.

Mike: Carr, who was selected in the early second round out of Fresno State, won the job in training camp over veteran Matt Schaub.

[+] EnlargeDerek Carr
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesDerek Carr can't count on the jump-ball type receptions they've enjoyed so far to work against the Patriots' defensive backs.

Tedy: Right now, I'd put him in the "make-sure" quarterback category. What I mean by that is that he's not going to throw it until he makes sure the receiver is open. The longer he holds on to the ball, the more lost he can look. That's what you'd basically expect from a young, rookie quarterback. They all have a lot to learn, and you can see that watching film. In last Sunday's loss to the Texans, you can see him trusting his arm more than his mind. He gets his read and immediately throws it to the first read. His arm is live enough and strong enough to make throws all over the field. He'll also throw it up to receiver James Jones. Or throw it up to receiver Rod Streater or fullback Marcel Reece. You see some spectacular plays made by receivers, like Jones' touchdown catch against the Jets in the opener and then had a jump-ball type touchdown against the Texans. So this could be a jump-ball type of game. A few years ago, I might have thought the Patriots would possibly have some problems. But with Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty, Logan Ryan and others who can go up and make plays on the ball so well, this could be a game where they have multiple interceptions if they just catch the ball.

Mike: On paper, you look at it and see running backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew and think that's a tough matchup. But they've struggled to run it the first two weeks, with Jones-Drew not playing in Week 2 because of a hand injury.

Tedy: The knock on McFadden has been if he can stay healthy, and he is healthy now, so you have to respect the fact he's a strong, physical, explosive runner. He's also a receiver out of the backfield and a player who is involved with some Wildcat elements in the offense. So the Patriots' defense and coordinator Matt Patricia will have to be ready for that. They're also running some read-option with Carr, who had a big 41-yard run against the Texans.

Mike: I'm sure Bill Belichick had that play marked, as it was a good example of what happens when the edge-setter on defense loses his discipline. You saw Houston's Brooks Reed bite on the read-option, and there was wide-open space for Carr to take off.

Tedy: In the passing game, you see some concepts that are in vogue in the NFL right now. Receiver Rod Streater's touchdown catch against the Jets in the season opener, it's a timing play where Streater catches the quick pass and the others are out blocking zone defenders. It's almost like a timed run play. At the same time, it's still a Raiders offense that makes you shake your head at times. Last week, receiver James Jones had a catch, fumble, he recovered it, and then almost got a touchdown before fumbling again. You see that and say, "Same old Raiders."

Mike: Fullback Marcel Reece, besides his outstanding last name, is one of the better players at his position. Bill Belichick described him as a "matchup" player this week.

Tedy: While he's listed as a fullback, he has receiving skills and is a player they rely on for offensive production. It's not that common to see that in today's NFL with a fullback. But they want to get him involved.

Mike: What are you seeing defensively in Oakland?

Tedy: It's a 4-3 defense, and it seems pretty basic. But simple seems difficult for this unit. On the Texans' first touchdown last Sunday, a 1-yard catch by J.J. Watt, it was a simple "7" route. It's a "7" because you go up the field and break out diagonally to the back pylon, and the route sort of looks like a 7. The linebacker is supposed to get that read, look to the tight end, and cover it. But the Raiders have struggled in man coverage. And they can't stop the run. So it's a bad combination.

Mike: Last week, the Patriots faced the Vikings and rookie linebacker Anthony Barr (No. 9 overall). I see some similarities with Barr and the Raiders' top pick, Khalil Mack (No. 5 overall).

Tedy: Mack looks capable. You're waiting for him to make some big plays, but he's someone I really liked coming out of college at Buffalo. I have no doubt that he will be a very good defensive player, but consider this with the overall Raiders defense: They were run on 14 straight times (including penalties) by the Texans last Sunday, and they couldn't stop it. That's demoralizing as a defense. There are a lot of prideful guys on that defense: Justin Tuck, Charles Woodson, LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Smith, Carlos Rogers.

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Mike: On special teams, you still see kicker Sebastian Janikowski booming the ball. He was their first-round draft pick in 2000, making him one of the longest-tenured kickers in the NFL.

Tedy: I just don't see the Raiders putting together a performance to beat the Patriots, but it comes back to the mindset that players have to have -- you can be beaten on any day. But as an analyst, this is one of those weeks where all the questions are about the Patriots, and how this is almost like preseason running into the regular season now. They are still figuring things out. This will be a good test of the team's mental focus. Also, maybe they can get rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley more reps and work him into a role as a major contributor. Maybe that interior offensive line gets more situated. Maybe this is one of those weeks when Julian Edelman takes more of a backseat to other receivers and try to get Danny Amendola feeling better about himself. Maybe Brandon LaFell, too, and you try to get Rob Gronkowski going. As a coaching staff, you obviously don't share those motives with your players, but those are the things you think about if the game goes your way.

Mike: The Raiders travel to London after this one, and they will leave directly from New England. Some are wondering if head coach Dennis Allen, now in his third year, might be in jeopardy of losing his job.

Tedy: For the Raiders, it doesn't look good. You have the Broncos in your division; they're 2-0, you're 0-2 and it looks like this could be another long season. They're trying to put things together, but you step back and sometimes it seems like Oakland is a place that players go just to finish their careers. Maybe Carr gives a little spark, but right now based on turnovers and one of their own players saying "we suck," it doesn't look good.

Mike: The running game keeps the positive momentum, and the Patriots build off last week's victory. Patriots 30, Raiders 14.

Tedy: You've got to think some of these championship veterans of the Raiders will have some pride and make some plays. I think they will, but with a rookie at the QB position, I see too many mistakes for this Raiders team to overcome. Patriots 27, Raiders 13.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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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