Commentary

Offense clicking at right time

Improved passing and run game will be counted on to pick up Patriots' D

Updated: November 4, 2013, 3:57 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. In your eyes, how has Dont'a Hightower lived up to wearing No. 54 so far? -- Kasey (Hopkinton, Mass.)

A. I think Dont'a has done a great job. He's a great player with a bright future ahead of him -- a big LB who can do a lot of things. I thought he did a great job Sunday night covering RBs down the field and he's really picked up the slack for the loss of Jerod Mayo.

Q. What's different about a bye in the Patriots' preparations? Will they really spend two full weeks preparing for one team? -- Nick (Peabody)

A. They won't spend two weeks preparing for one team. The players have significant time off (Wednesday-Monday) and most of it will be used to get rest and get healthy. It can be a downfall to spend that much time on one team. You can have your plan in, but with extra time, you can poke holes in your plan. So sticking to the weekly preparation, the one-week preparation -- when done the right way, even in a bye week -- is all you need. This team deserves some time off to get healthy and get away from football.

[+] EnlargeStevan Ridley
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesRB Stevan Ridley had one of his best showings of the season -- 115 yards rushing on 26 carries with two TDs.

Q. Do I overestimate the importance of a statement game like this? And are there any statement games in your regular-season career that stick out? -- Ian (Washington, D.C.)

A. I don't think this was a statement game at all. This was an average Steelers team. It's a team that couldn't take advantage of the deficiencies of the Patriots because of their own issues. Their OL isn't physical and they have an aging secondary.

Hopefully this is a sign of things to come for the Patriots, especially with Shane Vereen eligible to return Nov. 18 against Carolina.

Q. What are your thoughts on the defense now? I know everyone wants to talk about Tom Brady being back to form, but more importantly the defense is also going back to old ways, which is not a good thing. I knew it was a matter of time before the offense got back into a rhythm. You think once Talib gets back, they'll look more like the team through the first five weeks? Also, thoughts on Isaac Sopoaga if you could. Thanks Tedy! -- Sean (Maryland)

A. The entire first half of the season has been about buying time for this team. The defense had to buy time for this offense to get healthy and to develop chemistry. The defense in the early part of the season played well enough that they won games for the team as the offense struggled. Talib is a huge piece of this defense, especially if they keep playing so much man-to-man coverage. But even when Talib gets back, the loss of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo will eventually be obvious.

Q. What did you think of Isaac Sopoaga and his effect on the Pat's defensive front? -- Irwin (New Hampshire)

A. I thought Sopoaga did a good job as a first- and second-down player. He was package-specific. What he does is get his hands on blockers and help build the wall so linebackers can flow to the ball. That's exactly what the Patriots need with the loss of Wilfork.

I'm not sure he has the same football IQ and instincts as Wilfork does in terms of reading blocking schemes. But we'll see as the season goes on.

Q. Tedy, exciting win! It's amazing to see how, with the offense getting healthier and the defense increasingly ravaged by injuries, this team has inverted its identity from a few games ago. My question is this: Did we witness an offensive fluke -- was Pittsburgh just outcoached/overmatched -- or can we post 30 consistently now? -- Avi (Brooklyn)

A. I think you can consistently post 30-plus point games against defenses like the Steelers, especially the way they played Sunday night -- receivers running free down the field, DBs losing one-on-one matchups, and they couldn't stop the run. Is that going to happen every week? I don't think so. So 30 points, every week, I wouldn't say that's the expectation right now.

Q. Hey Tedy, still missing you man. With Talib's health being an issue, what can Bill Belichick do to help out the secondary? Kyle Arrington looked like toast most of the day and the secondary looked like they were playing in front of the receivers most of the day, then trying to catch up to the receivers. Often, while trying to catch up, not being aware of the ball. For a game that should have been enjoyable, the secondary kept me nervous. We can't plan on scoring that many points every week. Thanks. -- Mike (Brockton)

A. Mike, I just want to state how tough it's been for this defensive backfield with the game plans they are trying to execute. They are asking these DBs to cover man to man on a consistent basis. It's very hard to do. So when players like Logan Ryan and Kyle Arrington get beat, you recognize that and see that play. But you also have to recognize the work they're doing on other plays, blanketing the WRs. It's hard to do on every down and at times it's what they're being asked to do.

The one thing that helped them was the pass rush getting to Ben Roethlisberger. When they played the Jets a couple of weeks ago, that was the problem. They were getting beat because Geno Smith had so much time. So the problem going forward is if they can't get pressure against a better O-line.

Q. Can this Patriots team win it all this year? -- Brad (the bvi)

A. The easy answer is yes, after what we saw Sunday night. But here are my concerns: (1) Middle of the defense; (2) Stopping the run; (3) Stevan Ridley fumbling the ball; (4) If they lose another main contributor to injury, it will be tough to sustain. I'm also concerned with the offensive line, with Sebastian Vollmer being out.

I'd also add interior pass rush.

Q. Hey Tedy, I need some of your knowledge. After Rob Ninkovich went down, I realized we moved Chandler Jones to the left side and put in Andre Carter at the right. I can't figure out why we did that? Right now Jones is the superior pass rusher to anyone on the roster and seemed far less effective once he switched sides. Any reason why you move your best lineman when he's dominating his side of the line? -- David M. (Ames Iowa)

A. Sometimes coaches take the lesser of two evils. What you have in Chandler Jones is a player with flexibility and you can line him up all over -- he's rushed from inside and both edges. Andre Carter probably has less flexibility than Jones. It's almost the same as when they moved Mike Vrabel to ILB. We had backup LBs that could have come in and played inside and left Vrabel at OLB. But they felt Vrabel would be a better ILB than the other options on the depth chart at ILB when compared with who would come in at OLB. All they try to do is get the most skill at each position and Chandler Jones gives them that flexibility.

Q. Great complementary football -- however, how do we fix special teams giving Tommy the ball on the 10 constantly and the opposing team the ball at the 30+ yard line? Scheme, personnel? Thanks! -- Matt (East Brookfield)

A. Matt, I figure you're talking about kickoff returns and LeGarrette Blount isn't exactly a burner out there. That is an area where you could get an extra 10 yards, maybe if you put Julian Edelman back there. But Blount is a positive yardage returner -- probably coached to go up field and straight ahead. As big as he is, I'm sure they're hoping he'll fall forward and get to the 20-yard line each time.

Q. Tedy, I was surprised to see what was going on in Miami with a starting OL to leave the team allegedly due to hazing. Obviously we're used to seeing rookie haircuts and similar things for first-year players, but how much of this really goes on? Have you seen something similar, and how would it be handled in New England? -- Jacob (Bethlehem, Penn.)

A. Here's an example of how it was handled when things got out of hand for us. When I was a rookie, I was asked to take the entire LB group to dinner. It cost me $1,700. As it got up to my eighth and ninth year, it turned into an entire team dinner and all the rookies paying for the dinner. That bill sometimes reached upward of $30,000. Word got out that it was getting out of hand. I remember one captains meeting when Bill Belichick said, "That's enough of that. It's getting out of hand, guys." Joe Philbin should have been all over this.

Q. Hey Tedy, Aqib Talib and Julian Edelman both signed one-year deals last offseason and showed how valuable to the Pats they are this year. What kind of deal do you see those guys getting and does it come from the Pats or somewhere else in the NFL? -- Cory (Massachusetts)

A. This is an interesting question because it is the bye week. Sometimes within the organization, the bye week can be used to revisit negotiations. I remember in my career, there were times during the bye week that contract talks were prevalent. Talib is extremely valuable to this team. Based on the year he has had, his price tag will likely be high. The negative is being able to stay on the field. I'd like to see him signed up here; I'm sure they would, too. On Edelman, I see no reason that wouldn't happen here. I think this year has been a prime example of how important depth is. Edelman is a tough guy who has done everything for this team, including playing defense. It's easy for me to say, so I'll say it: Pay them both!

Q. How will Vereen's return affect the offense's impact? -- Anthony (Newton)

A. Anthony, the hope would be that it takes some snaps away from Ridley, especially in the passing game. He's a much better receiver than Ridley. When Ridley isn't counted upon to be the workhorse back, he's much more effective.

Q. I know it was a great win but how much stock can be put into it? Was this the team finally coming together or just them simply beating up on a struggling Steelers team -- or a little bit of both of those elements? -- bcail (New Hampshire)

A. It's easy to get excited after a win like that. I enjoyed watching it myself. The Steelers didn't play well and have a number of holes. But this Patriots team, especially offensively, has momentum now. As the defense picked up the slack for them early this year, now the roles have to be flipped. The offense has to pick up the slack for the defense. I see it getting tougher and tougher for this defense as the year goes on. So this offense is gaining momentum at just the right time to do exactly what the defense did for them early in the season.

Q. Hi Tedy, can we finally put to rest the theme this season of Tommy being too old, etc.? In two weeks we will have our envisioned offense for the first time all season with Gronk, Vereen, DA, AD and Jules. Then I think we can adequately assess the offense's play, specifically Tom's. -- Akiva (Title town)

A. I never bought into the theory that Brady was old or losing skill. It was the fact he was taking some shots and this offense was missing vital pieces. Anyone who says "All this team needs is Belichick and Brady" is missing the big picture. This isn't basketball, where all you need is LeBron James and you're OK. This is the game of football, where you need contributions from a lot of players in all three phases of the game. Now that they've made it to the bye week, and Gronkowski looks like he has his legs under him, and hopefully Amendola stays healthy, and Vereen comes back to produce a Ridley/Vereen combo, this offense is finally off and running. All they have to do now is pick up the slack for the defense, just as the defense did for them early this year.

Q. Do you think this team is developing the mental toughness that is needed to go deep into the playoffs? -- Peter (Port St. Lucie, Fla.)

A. This is a good question, Peter, because I felt like the adversity they went through early in the season when they had to scratch and claw to beat teams like the Bills and the Jets, losing to the Bengals, coming back to beat the Saints, losing to the Jets in OT, now blowing out the Steelers -- this team has kind of done it all. They've come from behind. Played good situational football. Had to rely on players who normally wouldn't have to be relied upon, and success is still achieved, mental toughness is developed. These experiences can be drawn upon as the season goes on. I'm glad it's been tough for them to win games. I think this team has learned this year how important every play can be. That should help them through the second half of the schedule.

Thanks to everyone for the questions. Have a great day.

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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