Commentary

Belichick loves a challenge

Solving problems -- like the loss of Wilfork -- is where Pats coach is at his best

Updated: October 1, 2013, 2:35 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

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

Q. Tedy, you played with Vince Wilfork. We hear how valuable he is, but the stats don't always reflect it. Can you describe why he is so valuable? -- Mike (Massachusetts)

A. The successful Patriots defenses have always been built from the inside out. Think of Richard Seymour, Ted Washington, Bobby Hamilton, Anthony Pleasant, Ty Warren, etc. Vince Wilfork might be the most valuable of them all -- not only making the job of Jerod Mayo easier, but also his recognition of scheme runs is outstanding. I could go on forever about Big Vince's value, so I plainly put it this way: Besides a Brady injury, there couldn't be a bigger blow to this team.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Spikes
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY SportsDon't be surprised to see Brandon Spikes used as a defensive lineman on an every-down basis.

Q. Tedy how do you think the defense adapts to the loss of Wilfork? Can Armond Armstead, who they picked up in the draft, be a viable option and work along with Tommy Kelly? Also what about Richard Seymour? Should the Patriots go after him? -- Mihir (Atlanta)

A. This coaching staff might have to find a way to creatively use Brandon Spikes as a defensive lineman. I don't see Seymour coming back. I think that ship has sailed. Armond Armstead's medical status is still an uncertainty.

Q. Hi Tedy, where's Brandon Spikes been? After the OTA drama, is this coach sticking it to him with reduced playing time or Dont'a Hightower simply being the preferred backer? Or is it all just scheme a la Wes Welker's reduced snaps last year's opening few games? -- Matt (East Brookfield)

A. Spikes is a package-specific player in this system. A run-stopping LB. The team was mainly in sub defenses against the Falcons. That's why Hightower got more reps. Hightower is a better all-around 'backer in my opinion. Now with the Wilfork injury, I wouldn't put it past this coaching staff to line up in a 34 defensive look and just send Spikes into the line on an every-down basis.

Q. How will Coach Belichick have to change the strategy of the front seven as they try to make up for the loss of Wilfork? -- Andy (Pittsfield)

A. As strange as it sounds, this is a situation where Coach Belichick will be at his best. With few options to work with along the defensive line, he will be more apt to go with an unconventional approach.

Q. What are the chances that we see the Pats bring in an outsider to fill the void at DT? Who do you think it would be?

SportsNation

How should the Patriots replace Vince Wilfork?

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Discuss (Total votes: 16,952)

A. I think that if there were someone out there to sign they would have done it by now. Defensive line depth has been one of their major problems all year. These guys don't fall from the sky. Now the guts/interior of this defense is counting on Tommy Kelly. Who saw that coming?

Q. Hi Tedy, two questions.1) Why was Pete Carrol such a failure in New England and such a success in Seattle? 2) Why were our rookie receivers such a success in the preseason and such failures in the first three games? -- Dennis (Winnipeg)

A. I wouldn't call Pete Carroll's time here a complete failure. Under Carroll, many players benefited from his tutelage and got better to a point where when Bill Belichick came in they were ready to take the next step. I was one of those players. On the rookie receivers, you can't expect regular-season success based on preseason results.

Q. Do you think the Titans are a playoff team? -- Jason T. (Owings Mill)

A. I do not think the Titans are a playoff team. They have promise, but not this year. Especially with the Jake Locker injury.

Q. Tedy,In your experience, why is it so difficult to close out games in the NFL? Do teams become so clock interested and out-think themselves instead of just playing the sound defense that put them in that position in the first place? -- Dan (Cary, N.C.)

A. Sometimes defenses will play more standard calls and that's when offenses can have more success. Or in cases like Matt Ryan and the Falcons, some players and coaches play a less-inhibited style when they are behind. Why it took a deficit for Matt Ryan to turn it loose is a mystery to me.

Q. Will the Patriots ever be challenged this year? How are they doing this? -- Deven (New York)

A. The Bengals will be a challenge this week ... depending on what Bengals team shows up. The Saints are the real deal.

Q. Does anybody want to challenge the Patriots? -- Deven (New York)

A. Just when you think the Dolphins would challenge for the division they lay an egg versus the Saints. I think their defensive line is legit, but Ryan Tannehill's mistakes, and fundamental errors from the defensive secondary, made them look like pretenders, not contenders, on Monday night.

Q. Hi Tedy, give us some insider's perspective about how Pats players receive injury updates and how they are briefed to protect this kind of info with the media. For example, do players on Wednesdays already know and prepare to play without Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola? Or they are teased until Fridays like the rest of us? Do Pats give players extensive guidelines on how to deal with media (e.g., avoid bulletin board material, protect competitive info, etc.)? -- Nissim (Bogota, Colombia)

A. Good question. Players are instructed to say nothing about injuries. It has been explained how injury information can benefit your opponent. So as a player you also want to keep the opponent guessing. Sometimes you know that a player definitely will not play and other times there are the game-time decisions. You know a valuable player will be working out before the game and when he comes back in the locker room after that pre-game mini-workout, as soon as he steps foot into the locker room, you go up to him and ask if he will go or not. If he tells you no, then your mind immediately has to adjust to not having him.

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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