Commentary

Tougher tests ahead for Pats

The maligned defense has improved, but let's not talk Super Bowl yet

Updated: November 26, 2012, 4:11 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. Do you honestly (put your heart aside) think the Pats' D can be good enough to help the offense get back to the Super Bowl and win it? Chances are they'll have to do it on the road for the most part. -- Dennis (Newington, Conn.)

A. Dennis, this defense has made improvement from last year. Remembering last year's AFC title game, it was basically the defense that won them that game. Tom Brady didn't play very well versus Baltimore, and that was probably my favorite moment last year for the defense -- winning when Brady didn't have his best day. The defense had to step up. It did. It's very possible for them to do that again.

Q. Hey Tedi, you're the man, loved watching you play LB. What's your take on the defense the last couple of weeks? I see more blitzing and many turnovers. Do you think this will continue and how do you see the Patriots planning with the last quarter of the season remaining?

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
AP Photo/Jim MahoneyCoach Bill Belichick speaks with members of the Pats' defense during the Jets game on Thursday.

A. Hi Nic, it's Tedy, buddy. Come on! Let's take the last two weeks with a grain of salt. They played the Colts with a rookie QB and the Jets with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. This defense still has a tough stretch coming up, starting Dec. 10 when Houston comes to town on Monday night and then San Francisco after that. Let's hold off making any conclusions until after that.

Q. Do you think Baltimore will stumble? They seem to have a tough schedule left. -- Emily (NB, Canada)

A. Emily, Baltimore plays Pittsburgh this week and who knows the status of Ben Roethlisberger. Then it's Washington, Denver, the N.Y. Giants and Cincinnati on the schedule. That's a tough finish. But I don't think the Patriots should count on Baltimore stumbling. They should focus more on winning their games. You never want to depend on someone else losing for your playoff position.

Q. Is Julian Edelman pushing Brandon Lloyd for the No. 2 WR spot? -- Dennis (Ocala, Fla.) Tedy

A. Dennis, Edelman and Lloyd are two totally different WRs. I see Lloyd as an outside-the-numbers route runner -- a receiver that tip-toes the sideline to make tough catches, runs comebacks, slants, all from outside the numbers. Julian Edelman is another version of Wes Welker -- an inside slot receiver.

Q. Hey Tedy, I'm curious to hear your take on Steve Gregory; in particular, compared with a healthy Patrick Chung. Aside from being in the right place at the right time this past week, he doesn't seem to show up much. Over the course of the season, he's not breaking up a lot of passes or making physical tackles -- in fact, he seems to miss tackles in the open field. On the other hand, when healthy over the last four seasons, Chung does seem to show up. I tend to think McCourty/Chung/Talib/Dennard represent the best four DBs, but maybe I'm wrong, because this seems to run contrary to what I've read here on the Patriots blog ( i.e., that a healthy Gregory is a starter and that Chung could be on his way out due to poor play). What is your take? Thanks Tedy. -- Eric (Vermont)

A. With McCourty at one safety position, the Patriots have a good problem in having to choose between Gregory and Chung. Maybe they can decide over a week of practice who they feel would match up better going up against a particular opponent. Bill Belichick loves using DBs for multiple combinations. Over the past few weeks, I think you're seeing how this defensive backfield is forming. Chung hasn't gotten a lot of snaps (22 vs. the Jets upon his return from injury), and it looks like he'll be coming out of the bullpen for now.

Q. Tedy, looking at the rest of the schedule (along with the schedules of Houston and Baltimore), is it feasible to say that the Pats end up 13-3 and perhaps take the first or second seed in the playoffs? -- Jason (Pretzfeld, Germany)

A. Jason, I look at Houston and San Francisco in back-to-back weeks on the Patriots' schedule, and those are two games where I feel Rob Gronkowski would be needed. I think the health of Gronkowski, and if he's able to participate in those two games, would alter the way I pick the winner. The Gronk factor is huge right now. I can't guarantee them running the table right now.

Q. Hi Tedy, what do you think it says about this Patriots team for them to head into a tough divisional match-up with their hated rivals, down the biggest piece of their offense outside of Brady, without two Pro Bowl-starting offensive linemen (Sebastian Vollmer, Logan Mankins), and still put up huge points? -- John (Minnesota)

A. I watched that game on Thanksgiving and I think it said more about the Jets than anything. It's about how far they've regressed. It just didn't look like that much of a challenge for the Patriots. I feel like they did what they were supposed to do. If the ball was fumbled, pick it up and run it in. If it pops up in the air on special teams, pick it up and run it in. The Jets really looked inept and the Patriots took advantage of it.

Q. I saw that Aqib Talib played every snap but two, yet he wasn't mentioned much during the game (in a good way). Was he that effective on coverage or did the Jets just not throw his way because of his reputation? -- CB (Murray, Utah)

A. Talib just didn't have many opportunities during the game. Sanchez didn't challenge him and sometimes didn't have time to do so if he desired. When you play a team like the Jets, as a defensive back, you know that you won't get many opportunities because of their emphasis on the run game.

Q. Don't we have the best shot at the No. 2 seed by overtaking the Texans? I don't see the Ravens losing two more, but the Texans could easily lose one and then if we beat them we have the tiebreaker. -- Keith (Shelton)

A. This is a good question, Keith, because the Ravens would have to lose two more. This puts that much more emphasis on the Texans-Patriots game on Dec. 10. As fans and analysts, we can look forward to that game. Hopefully for the Patriots, they don't and take care of business in Miami on Sunday (Dec. 2).

[+] EnlargeJulian Edelman
AP Photo/Julio CortezJulian Edelman suffered a head injury during the Jets rout, but with the extra time between games it's possible the Patriots will have him back against Miami on Sunday.

Q. Hi Tedy, longtime follower of the Pats and really looking forward to the next few weeks. There isn't much to find wrong with the win on Thanksgiving. But I can't help but feel that this team needs to stay on its toes to keep that winning up these next few weeks. If we take the 'Niners and Texans at home, can we really feel that we got a chance at another Super Bowl? Thanks Tedy. -- Kevin (Quantico)

A. Kevin, "if we take the 'Niners and Texans at home" is a huge statement. Those are two of the best teams in the NFL. So are the Patriots. But that two-game stretch is going to be tough. I'm not going to tell you if they'll win both of those games; you'll have to check Bruschi's Breakdown for my prediction!

Q. Tedy, do you have any interest in coaching? -- Matt (Richmond)

A. Matt, if I was a coach, I wouldn't be able to do these chats. That wouldn't be any fun.

Q. Hi Tedy. Assuming Edelman does have a concussion, what do the Pats do on offense to keep this offensive machine running smoothly? Temporarily trash the 3-WR sets until he gets back and go 2-TEs 2-WRs exclusively, employ Hernandez more as a WR, run even more than they have been? Thanks. -- Tman (Belmont, Mass.)

A. Obviously, it looked like Edelman was concussed on that hit by LaRon Landry. But every player's healing timetable is different. Luckily it was a Thursday game and he has more time to recuperate. Concussions are a big emphasis now, but it's entirely possible he plays Sunday in Miami.

Q. Hi Tedy, can you comment on the the cause of the Patriots regressing on rushing defense? They were so dominant stopping the run early in the season, but the last three weeks they have been mediocre, at best. What has changed, and how can they improve? -- Neil X. (Rozzie)

A. This is tough, because you have to consider the scores they are winning by. When you get a big lead and a couple touchdowns up on a team, the run game isn't necessarily on a defender's mind, as the mentality changes -- "If you want to nickel and dime us for 5 yards a pop for the rest of the game, go ahead and the clock will run out." Even your defensive line, at a point, starts thinking about getting sacks. This defense is very situationally aware.

Q. Hey Tedy, love your insight! What is your opinion of the Pats' current linebackers? Are they too similar? I know the secondary has been crucified enough. But I think the middle of the field is a concern as well, with almost every team now using the TEs as a security blanket. I saw yesterday the great job Patrick Willis did in covering Jimmy Graham. Do the Pats have three of the same type of downhill running linebackers weak in pass coverage? -- Deep (Boston)

A. The one do-everything LB that New England has is Jerod Mayo. Brandon Spikes is a run-stopper and Dont'a Hightower is similar (although Hightower can also play on the line of scrimmage). Mayo can do everything and he's their best coverage LB.

Q. Hey Tedy! Just a general question -- did you have a favorite defensive play-call that you always looked forward to hearing from the sideline? If the season ended today, who would be your pick for NFL MVP? -- Justin (Sharon)

A. It's easy to say I loved the calls where I could just blitz and rush the passer. But here's the situation I liked: It's third-and-5, the defensive coordinator calls man coverage, and I have the RB man to man. Keying on the RB as the ball is snapped -- he stays in to block. This is where you can use the technique called the "hug" blitz. As the RB would block the DE on the outside, I would angle toward the outside to make the O-line then think I was chasing the RB in coverage and then blitz late. I got many sacks from this technique because the OL sort of forgot about you. You had to be sneaky and make them think one thing when you were doing another. I loved playing games with the OL.

It's a two-man race right now for MVP -- Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. I just don't see MVP-type play from Matt Ryan. So out of Manning and Brady, who do you think I'm voting for...? Chris Fiegler (Latham,NY)

Q. Do you think that the Patriots' defense is better than last year? -- Chris F. (Lathan, N.Y.)

A. Chris, for the stretch run, I want to see Chandler Jones healthy and in that lineup. That's a huge factor. But one stat says it all -- plus-24. Turnover ratio. That's the No. 1 stat in football. Last year, they weren't close to that.

Q. I know that Gronk was a big part of the offense, but do you think they are a Super Bowl contender without him? -- Angel (Tucson)

A. Angel, it's nice to hear from someone in Tucson. Go Cats! They still are a Super Bowl contender without Gronk. A Super Bowl favorite? That's another story.

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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