Commentary

Can Pats keep winning like this?

Defensive lapses mixed with big plays is risky pattern as opponents improve

Updated: November 12, 2012, 5:05 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-and-A.

After the Patriots' 37-31 win over the Bills on Sunday, there's plenty of panic in New England. But just remember: This is who the Patriots are. They've given up yards, but they've made the big play when they've had to.

With that thought, let's begin...

Q. Tedy, why haven't the Patriots been able to contain any opposing tight ends? Whether it's Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, or one of the safeties in coverage, it seems that opposing tight ends are consistently able to get open on a game-by-game basis. -- Matthew (Sandy Hook, Conn.)

A. If I were an offense, I would attack the Patriots over the middle. But the Bills had tremendous success running, so it opened up their play-action game. This puts any LB in a bind, when you have to honor the run threat and get back in coverage to cover a 6-foot-7, 263-pound tight end like Scott Chandler.

Q. Tedy, I'm throwing my arms in the air here. Who was to blame yesterday for the Bills basically marching down the field at will? Was it more on the linebackers for missed tackles and missed coverages or on the secondary? -- Gavin (Delaware)

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Jared Wickerham/Getty Images Bills running back C.J. Spiller (70 yards on nine carries) helped expose some of the Patriots' defensive weaknesses on Sunday.

A. OK, Gavin, I wondered how long this chat would go before people would be placing blame. I agree with you somewhat. It is frustrating to see offenses go up and down the field on the Patriots' defense. But at this point, instead of searching for answers, you have to start thinking this way: This is who the New England Patriots are. Offensively, they look unstoppable at times. But they always have a lull in the game. Defensively, teams will gain yards. With the shuffling in the secondary, this will continue. But hopefully for the Patriots, so will the takeaways. Those big plays make up for any yards gained.

Q. What do you know about Aqib Talib? And how much do you think he will help? Should we expect to see a big improvement? -- Marcus (Somerville)

A. At first, I think you could see more communication problems in the secondary. You bring in Talib, and you take Devin McCourty -- your best CB and move him to safety -- there will be some communication problems. Is Talib a good player? Yes, he is. I think it will be interesting to see how simple it is for the coaches to make it for him. But simple is one adjective I wouldn't use to describe this defense.

Q. What do the Pats need to do to fix this pass defense? Getting Steve Gregory back didn't help. Talib can practice this week but what will he really add? -- Charles (Eureka, Calif.)

A. One of the biggest things that bothered me about this game were the coverage busts in the red area. There were two uncontested TDs by the Buffalo Bills -- to Scott Chandler and Donald Jones. Both touchdowns were a result of a lack of communication. The Buffalo Bills formed offensive sets that put their receivers in close proximity that caused traffic problems and forced miscommunication. The proper adjustments are not being communicated. Uncontested TDs are a sign of an undisciplined defense.

Q. Good morning Tedy. A win is a win and I'll take it! My question is in regards to the Patriots' linebacking corps. I've noticed that they've made strides in transitioning to the 4-3 but struggle in defending the middle part of the field against TE's and slot WR's. Our linebackers still seem built for the 3-4 defense. Is this a case of players playing out of position or is it simply a matter of the guys maybe dropping some weight to pick up some speed and agility? -- Matt (Western Mass.)

A. Jerod Mayo is a LB who can play in any scheme. He has the size and speed to play almost any position. Brandon Spikes does remind me more of a 3-4 inside linebacker. If there is one part of their game the Patriots' LBs need to improve, it's defending the play-action pass. I don't think losing any weight is the answer to their problems.

Q. Hey Tedy, love these chats. Bill Belichick mentioned to the media that the goal at this point is to improve at a faster rate than your opponents. The eyeball test tells me we're failing. The Texans' defense outplayed the Bears' D last night while both sides of the ball -- offense and defense -- in Denver look sharper than a couple of weeks ago when the Patriots beat them. The Steelers have also turned the corner and the young Colts are 6-3. There are three (soon to be four) 6-3 teams in the AFC as well as the Texans and Ravens with better records. How do YOU think the Patriots' improvement compares with theirs? Judging by the defense's awful performance yesterday, I would say not well! -- Tron (Waltham, Mass.)

A. Hey Tron, thanks for posting another question. This is one of your best. Improvement is always stressed throughout the NFL. It's discouraging that the pass defense of the Patriots isn't improving. Here is a reality check for you: I don't know how much better it will get the rest of the year. The more new pieces you bring in, there is a higher chance of inconsistency.

Along with those inconsistencies, this defense has shown the knack to make the big play. That has to continue.

Q. Hi Tedi, can you clarify the rule of recovering a fumble? In the fourth quarter, the Bills fumbled and it appeared that the Pats recovered on replay. Then everyone piles on, and somehow the Bills ended up getting the ball back. If a replay shows a team in possession of the ball and they are down, can that ever be reversed even if the ball gets wrestled away under the pile? I would think if there was no pile, someone from the other team cannot come and pull a recovered ball out of the hands of a player lying down, so what is the difference? -- Jim (Boston)

A. OK Jim, being in those situations, I know. If it's not a clear recovery, it's a free-for-all. You know when you're at the bottom of that pile, the officials are digging in there to see who has it. That's where you just have to fight. Players who aren't involved at the bottom of the pile are coached to pull every opposing team member off the pile to help teammates at the bottom. It's an ugly place to be, Jim.

Q. Hey, Tedy! Did you see anything "punk" about the Spikes hits? At most, I feel like you could say the hit on Fitzpatrick might have been a beat too late. -- Doug (Brooklyn)

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Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesBills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't appreciate this takedown by Brandon Spikes in the second half on Sunday, later calling the Patriots linebacker "a punk." Spikes was flagged for a personal foul on the play.

A. There was nothing "punk" about the hit. Did it warrant a flag? Yes, he drove his helmet into Fitzpatrick's face and his helmet came off. What is interesting was Fitzpatrick's post-game comments when he touched on some of the things Spikes says on the field. I don't know what was said on the field. I'm sure there is a lot of trash talking going on out there. I think Spikes is turning into a player almost like Rodney Harrison, where you hate him if you play against him, but you love him if he's on your team.

Q. Hi Tedy, the thing that concerned me the most in the game was the poor tackling. Just a one-game blip due to poor focus or something to be worried about as we look forward? -- Andy (Berkshires)

A. Let's remember this team came off a bye. With so little physical work now during the week, due to the collective bargaining agreement (four consecutive days off during bye), I think it's understandable. I think it's more of a one-game blip. And also, this Bills RB tandem is one of the better ones in the NFL. I have a lot of respect for Fres Jackson as a player and C.J. Spiller just had a great day.

Q. What did you think of Tom Brady getting into it with Julian Edelman coming off the field? -- Mike (Westwood)

A. That's what I'm used to seeing. I think there should be more of that, from more players. Shoot, I used to yell like that at my coaches. That's what happens when players take responsibility for their team. When I played, I never felt it was Bill Belichick's team. I felt like it was mine. There were 15-20 guys that felt the same. That's what you saw with Tom Brady. That offense is his baby and if someone doesn't do what's right, he's going to let them know.

Q. Bruschi, when are we going to see a change to the defensive scheme? It does not work. You cannot put ZERO pressure on the quarterback and hope for these backs to cover the receivers. It's been five years of the same defense and it hasn't worked once. We rely way too heavily on lucky breaks (dropped passes, bad passes, turnovers) and never on making big stops. What else is it going to take to get the message through? -- Jarad (New Hampshire)

A. Lots of frustration in this question here, Jarad. You have to think about what you're saying, though. They drafted Chandler Jones, and it seems like he's been a home run. He's been getting the job done. This game was won due to a big defensive play. The defense got the ball back for the offense twice in the fourth quarter, and almost a third time. Bill Belichick has recognized the problems with the secondary and acquired Aqib Talib to try to help. This is the team you have. This is who the Patriots are. They give up yards hand over fist, but they've made the big play when they've had to. And they've played well in criticial situations when Tom Brady hasn't (e.g. AFC Championship game last year). As long as this defense continues to have the ability to force turnovers, they'll be OK.

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Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesProduction from playmakers like RB Stevan Ridley and others have made up for the Pats' defensive woes this season.

Q. Give me some hope for my Bills, Tedy. -- Jim Kelly (Buffalo, N.Y.)

A. I don't have much hope for you, Jim. I felt your organization made some great moves in the offseason. I know many of our ESPN Boston visitors remember me picking the Bills in the first matchup between the teams. I felt all of your work in the offseason was to beat the Patriots in that game in Orchard Park. But the same problems arose. You got up 21-7 and couldn't finish. That's what CHan Gailey told his team all week -- to finish. Once again, that's what they couldn't do. This is the difference between the good teams and the average teams. The Patriots once again found a way to make big plays late in the game. The Bills, on the other hand, couldn't answer.

Q. Not easy for the Bills to be playing 11 vs. 18. The officiating was one-sided to say the least. Your thoughts? -- Dom (New York)

A. I felt like there were some questionable calls that went against the Bills' defense, but somehow you have to find a way to overcome those.

Q. Hey Tedy, how do you feel -- do you think the Colts and Patriots game will be a tight one? -- Anthony (Los Angeles)

A. Anthony, I think this is one of the games of the week in Week 11. The Colts are playing very well right now. Andrew Luck is having one of the best rookie years in the history of the NFL. It seems like this Patriots-Colts rivalry -- although there is no Peyton Manning -- should have just as much excitement.

Q. What will be the hardest NFL team that the Patriots will face this season? -- Chris F. (Latham, N.Y.)

A. Chris, the schedule doesn't get any easier for the Patriots. Not looking past the Colts game, which will be tough, the month of December starts and ends with the Dolphins -- with Houston and San Francisco in between -- which will be tough. It helps that the Houston and San Francisco games are at home.

Q. Assuming the Steelers beat KC tonight, that leaves the Patriots, Packers, Colts, Steelers and Broncos at 6-3. Can you rank those teams for me? -- Joshua (Rhode Island)

A. Out of all those teams, the only one I have my doubts about are the Colts. Honestly, when you look at the Patriots, Packers, Steelers and Broncos, if those teams were to meet, it's a toss-up.

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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