Commentary

Offense must pick up the slack

Defense is buying time for Pats, but they'll need more balance in coming weeks

Updated: September 24, 2013, 2:37 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.

Q. Hi Tedy thanks for the chat. After watching the Broncos last night, they seem to be the class of the AFC. I'm thinking we need to get Jamie Collins up to speed to be able to even come close to matching up with that offense. Great to see Wes Welker doing so well, but who would not have expected that? -- Lonster (SoCal)

A. It is good to see Welker doing well in Denver. A part of me wishes he was still doing that in a Patriots uniform, like all of you. I'm sure defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have Collins playing better as the year goes on. Yes, the Denver Broncos' offense does look good. But remember, this is September. I remember as a player watching Peyton Manning play in September and thinking to myself, "Wait until we get you in New England in the winter time." The efficiency of the Broncos' offense, and every offense, will always be higher in September. As the year goes on, and there is more tape to watch and the weather turns, that's when defenses will start to regain an advantage on the Broncos.

[+] EnlargeDecker
AP Photo/Jack DempseyAre the Pats good enough to beat Peyton Manning and his high-powered offense? Probably not yet.

Q. Hi Tedy, hope you're well. Do you think the Patriots' LBs are going to cover Tony Gonzalez effectively on Sunday? It's an area where they've struggled in the past. Also, can you see the Patriots playing more single high safety like they did on Sunday? Thanks. -- Connor (Kettering, England)

A. I'm sure they'll mix it up, in terms of what they do with their safeties, whether it's single high or two high safeties. You have to be careful leaving your corners on an island on Julio Jones. I know Aqib Talib is playing well, but Jones is dangerous. Rotating your coverage on top of Jones' side is important. So, when it comes down to it, these Patriots LBs are going to have to do a good job covering underneath. That matchup against Gonzalez will be critical. Tony isn't as fast as he once was, but he's still savvy. I think the one advantage the Patriots have with him is being physical at the line of scrimmage.

Q. Hey Mr. Bruschi. I'm a huge fan of you and of the New England Patriots. Thanks for your time. Obviously this defense has played far beyond expectations so far, but do you think this is the real Patriots defense, or will this change as they start to take on higher-scoring offenses like Atlanta, Cincinnati and New Orleans over the next month? -- Tyler (Minneapolis)

A. Tyler, these next few weeks are when the offense has to pick up the slack. I do think this Patriots defense is for real. One concern I have is depth along the defensive line. Atlanta this week will be a true test.

Q. Can the Patriots win against the Denver Broncos? -- Gil C. (Sacramento, Calif.)

A. No, not at this point. But the game isn't until Nov. 24. This Patriots team has to vastly improve before that matchup.

Q. Tedy, do you really see any hope for this year's team? They have a tough schedule, and with the rookies I am just losing hope. I do not believe the rookies will pull through in the clutch. -- Brian (Florida)

A. Well, Brian, I'm here to give you a little hope. I think the No. 1 reason I can do that is a guy by the name of Rob Gronkowski. There will be a trickle-down effect as a result of his return. As he gets settled in, and gets his football legs back, it should open opportunities throughout the offense. Have a little hope, Brian!

Q. Tedy, I think our Pats are in a great position having won the first three games while the rookie receivers are coming along and Gronk is healing, but can anyone stop the Broncos? -- Adam

A. Adam, first of all, talk to Brian and make him feel better.

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Do you think this Patriots defense is for real?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,168)

I agree with what you are saying. These young WRs have had valuable reps in game situations to get better. Now with Gronkowski hopefully coming back, we should start to see even more improvement. But the Broncos do look tough right now. Peyton always looks tough in September. These high-powered offenses always slow down around Christmas, though.

Q. Tedy, how do you expect the Pats to attack the Atlanta offense? Do you see them putting Talib on Julio Jones (I would) and double-teaming Tony Gonzalez with a high safety and Dont'a Hightower underneath? How did Miami stifle them? -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. You could put Talib on Jones and let those two battle. But don't count out Alfonzo Dennard, either. One thing Dennard does is fight you throughout the down. If the Patriots put Dennard on Jones, and let them go at it with a safety over the top, then you can put Talib on the other side over Roddy White.

Q. I keep hearing about Miami challenging the Patriots in the East. While this seems possible, are we looking at "fool's gold"? Granted, they have beaten Atlanta and Indy, but I do not see them beating New England twice in the same year. -- Richard (North Carolina)

A. Richard, I like this Miami team. I actually picked them to beat the Falcons this past week. Playing Miami, in Miami in September, is a very difficult task. I don't see them beating New England twice in the same year either, but don't you think they can split?

Q. If you were playing on Sunday, what would be your No. 1 priority as a linebacker and as a defense against such a high-powered offense? -- Andy (Pittsfield)

A. Andy, this Atlanta offense challenges a defense in many ways. Even though the Falcons have high-powered receivers, I think the No. 1 priority is stopping the run. I know they don't have Steven Jackson, but Jason Snelling runs hard and is a very solid football player. He's also a good receiver out of the backfield, and Jacquizz Rodgers is no slouch, either. Along with stopping the run, that includes the screen pass. The Falcons use the screen pass as well as anyone in the NFL. They throw behind-the-line-of-scrimmage passes. They go onto the stat sheet as passing yards, but they are really extensions of the running game. As a linebacker, once you focus on those two things, then you have to worry about Gonzalez in coverage.

Q. Hi Tedy. While the first few games haven't been what we are accustomed to seeing from the Patriots, I think it is a good thing that the defense is having to step up and carry the offense. In past years, the defense just had to hold on (barely sometimes) to the big leads that the offense was running up. I think that the offense will catch up by midseason and the defense will be stronger for it. Your thoughts? -- Jim L. (Macon, Ga.)

A. I agree 100 percent, Jim. Not only has this defense been buying the offense time to get better, especially those young WRs, but this team also is getting used to winning close games. I know the Tampa Bay game was a 20-pointer, but the Patriots are having to scrap for victories. Getting used to winning close games now helps you down the road.

[+] EnlargeRob Gronkowski
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesThe return of Rob Gronkowski should have a positive trickle-down effect on the Patriots.

Q. Some fans booed the Patriots in the first quarter on Sunday. I sometimes think fans get more upset at other fans when they boo the players than the actual players do. Do the players get upset at being booed during the game? -- David (North Attleborough)

A. Players don't get upset about being booed. They are probably more upset about what made the fans start booing. That usually means poor play. I always expected the Patriots' fans to give it to us when we weren't playing well. It puts more pressure on the players, and I think that's a good thing.

Q. I thought  Hightower was particularly good in coverage against the Buccaneers and showed off good speed for a big man. Did you see the same thing? What does Hightower need to work on? -- Anonymous

A. He did some good things against the Buccaneers, especially when he was one-on-one against Doug Martin. That's a difficult thing to do when you have a big LB in space on a smaller, faster player. That he can still be in position enough to force an incomplete shows that Hightower's game is developing to the point that he can become an every-down linebacker.

Q. Hi Tedy, awesome story about Rob Ninkovich's extension. Well deserved. It made me think how close he was of being on the street if the Pats don't give him the "last" opportunity, and now he got a handsome pay. It also made me want to ask how lower-rank players (e.g., the many undrafted players on the team) cope with the economic stress and the fine line between a big NFL paycheck and being on the street doing a real-life job (with real-life compensation). -- Nissim (Bogota, Colombia)

A. It's a well-deserved extension for one of the Patriots' best players on defense. Every time there is a big play made for the Patriots' defense, it seems as if it's made by Ninkovich. It's nice that the Patriots stepped up to the plate and signed him this early in the season. I think it shows how much they value him. Ninkovich is one of those guys you describe -- he was a long snapper who tore up his knee. For him to sign another extension, through 2016, it just goes to show what a success story he is. Players have to be careful in getting caught up. Some players have a difficult time realizing that the "NFL life" can end very quickly. Ninkovich is one of those guys who has the right perspective because of the route he took to get here.

Thanks to everyone for chatting today. We'll do it again next week.

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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