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Monday, October 31, 2011
Revolving door on defense hurts

By Tedy Bruschi
ESPNBoston.com

Instead of the traditional five observations in the Bruschi On Tap, we're switching things up on a more permanent basis to a weekly Q-and-A with fans posted every Monday. Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. to have your question considered. Here we go...

Q. Do you think [Bill] Belichick should have thrown the challenge flag on the non-touchdown call on [Rob] Gronkowski? If it would have been ruled a touchdown, would it have changed the outcome as a win for the Patriots? -- ( Baltimore, Md.)

A. That's probably the main criticism I had in this game with coaching. To me, it was obvious on TV that was a touchdown and it would have saved the Patriots time. The ball just has to break the plane of the goal line. I thought Coach Belichick should have challenged. It would have been worth the risk.

Q. Tedy can we expect this team to really compete with teams like the Steelers, Ravens or Jets with this defense if we can make the playoffs? -- John (New York)

A. That's a good question, especially after a performance like this one. You have to wonder. But as bad as the Pats looked yesterday, and it obviously wasn't their best game, this wasn't the playoffs. I think right now this team has to focus on getting there first. And once you get there, you never know what the matchup will be and anything is possible. It's just the seventh game.

Q. Hey Tedy, after watching this past game I'm very down on the defense. After the last two games I thought they were improving, but then the Steelers spread them out and picked them apart all game long. I was hoping to get back to the Super Bowl so bad but I just don't see this defense getting any better. Do you think it will get better or is this what we should expect the rest of the season? -- Monte (Palestine, Texas)

Patrick Chung
It was one of those days for Patrick Chung and the Patriots' defense.

A. There is nowhere to go but up from here. I'd like to see some type of consistency in the defensive backfield. When you take away so many pieces over the course of the year, you're going to get a performance like this. It started with the release of James Sanders. This week, putting Ras-I Dowling on IR and releasing Leigh Bodden, you had a makeshift secondary back there that didn't look like it knew what it was doing. If they continue to shuffle their starting lineup in the defensive backfield, expect this type of performance.

Q. Be honest, do you believe that the Colts are actually this bad or do you think they might be purposely tanking just to get the No. 1 pick in the draft? -- Zach (Texas)

A. I don't think those players are purposely tanking it, but I'm starting to question their mental toughness. Remember, this is the same organization that turned down the chance to go 16-0. It's ironic that they're fighting not to go 0-16.

Q. Hey Tedy. For the two games Jerod Mayo was out, the Patriots defense had arguably its two best performances of the season. When he came back, they went back to their old ways. Is this just a result of playing a better team or is there something to it? Thanks. -- Rob (Acton, Mass.)

A. One can't tell me this team is worse with Jerod Mayo at linebacker. That's not possible. A healthy Jerod Mayo means a better Patriots defense.

Q. Should Bill Belichick go back to his "less is more" philosophy? This team doesn't look like it can follow multi-layered schemes. At least not in the back. -- PatsFan401 (Rhode Island)

A. This isn't about multi-layered schemes. This is about players on defense simply playing better. That's as direct as I can put it. Constantly getting beat in man-to-man coverage and the lack of continuity in zone coverages -- this is fundamental football. At this point in the season, they should be playing better in these concepts. However, when you have a revolving door on defense -- mixing and matching especially in the secondary -- you'll get a lack of consistency.

Q. For how long can Belichick rest on his past defensive success? This team has had an atrocious defense for years now and is not getting any better. Something has to change. (Boston, Mass.)

A. Remember, Coach Belichick shifted from a 3-4 scheme to a 4-3, trying to adapt to the offenses he knew he would face this year. If you think he's doing the same thing over and over again, just look at that example. He switched defensive fronts this year. In recent memory, can you remember doing that with the same coaches there? Coach Belichick has been doing everything he can to use different combinations of schemes or players to find the right answer.

Q. Tedy, the old "We got out-executed" cliche is going to be thrown around today but c'mon, this loss is about a serious schematic problem with this team, isn't it? The formula to beat this team over the last three years has been jam the receivers, hit Brady and dare us to throw over the top or to run. We can't run, we don't have any speed over the top and our receivers crumble when someone hits them. We're the Colts! Plus, our defense looks like Swiss cheese for the third straight year. How do we beat a defense, like the Ravens/Steelers/Jets, that's going to hit us in the mouth, with this type of personnel? Don't we actually have to take it out of Tom's hands and start feeding BenJarvus Green-Ellis? -- Tanvir (Connecticut)

Bill Belichick
Bill Belichick has tried different combinations of schemes and players to find the right answer.

A. It's tough to feed Green-Ellis when you have the ball for only 20 minutes. During the course of a game, when you see a defense giving up third-down conversion after third-down conversion, you have to throw the ball. When you get hit in the mouth, a simple solution is hit back. That's what I didn't see much of yesterday.

Q. Hey Tedy, how do you explain what happened on offense? I thought they forced the passing game by trying to get Kevin Faulk involved, and as a result they ended up behind and unwilling to run the ball with Benny and Ridley. What's your take? -- Gooby (Quincy, Mass.)

A. When you're going up against man coverage, which is what the Steelers majored in yesterday, it comes down to beating it and getting separation. They didn't do that enough. One thing I'm discouraged about is the lack of adjustments offensively. There are certain things you can do to counteract man coverage -- pick routes, crossing routes, etc."

Q. Tedy, was that one of the worst-officiated games of the season? I saw the Steelers get away with more penalties against the Pats receivers than any game in recent memory. Are they just that good at hiding it or did the refs really turn a blind eye to [Troy] Polamalu and company? -- Mike K. (New Jersey)

A. One thing I noticed is that officials are relying so much on replay. It seems like they are not willing to make the tough call, but rather make the easy one and put it on the head coach for whether he wants to challenge it or not.

Q. Tedy, do you think the media's weeklong "Tom Brady has owned the Steelers" parade was all over the Pittsburgh bulletin board leading up to the game? It reminds me of how all the talking heads came out against you guys in '01 with the Raiders, Steelers and Rams. Excluding a Rex Ryan call-out, is there any bigger motivator than "us against the world?" -- Eliott (Marion, Mass.)

A. I think the situation was flipped from the game last year, when the Patriots were coming off an embarrassing loss to the Browns and had plenty of motivation to bounce back. They ended up beating the Steelers. Going into this year, the motivation was flipped and everyone was doubting the Steelers. That's been a problem with this Patriots team the last couple years; dealing with success can be tougher sometimes than dealing with adversity.

Q. Ravens or Steelers on Sunday? Why? -- Jerry (Orlando)

A. Give me a little more time on that one...

Q. Tedy, you are a Patriot lifer and have played with [Kevin] Faulk. I know you like and respect him as a player but can you convince me that Faulk is a better option than Woodhead going forward? Faulk looked slow before he tore his ACL last year. He is the always-dependable pass catcher and blitz pick-up but I would like to see the Pats move on and have Woodhead play the Faulk role. Faulk is better than Woodhead at picking up the blitz but Woodhead just is more explosive and elusive when catching and running the ball (and he's pretty good at picking up the blitz, so it's not that great of a drop off). I feel we may be hanging on to Faulk's past accomplishments by keeping him here. -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. Tom Brady wants people around him that know what to do. I think the coaching staff and Brady have great faith in Faulk that he'll be in the right place. Is he going to break one off for 50 yards? No, he's not. But there's something to be said for being in the right place and knowing what to do, and that's what Kevin Faulk brings to this offense. If Brady had more faith in Woodhead than Faulk, then Woodhead would play.

Kevin Faulk
Should Danny Woodhead be playing over Kevin Faulk?

Q. Tedy, this Giants game is a now a must-win, do you agree? Going to the Jets game 5-3 would keep the division up for grabs regardless of who wins the NY/Buf game. -- Mike (Providence)

A. With the emergence of the Bills, I still wouldn't say this is a must-win. The season doesn't depend on it, but to keep pace with Buffalo, you have to keep winning. You have to assume the Bills will be there in the end. That Week 17 matchup between the Bills and Patriots looks like a huge game. This loss to the Steelers gave new life to the Jets and Bills that they can still win the AFC East.

Q. Tedy, if we are asking Devin McCourty to be a lock-down corner, then they should let him and stop asking him to provide a 5- to 7-yard cushion and play that soft zone. He needs to be aggressive and be asked to play as a 1-on-1 defender. Do you think his sophomore performance is not strangely related to the team's coverage scheme? -- Chin (Basement)

A. At this point of McCourty's career, he is not a shut-down corner. Can he develop into one? Yes, but they're not asking him to do the same things that Darrelle Revis does. He's done a great job playing within that system.

Q. How does Tom Brady handle a situation like this, coming off a loss? Does he get on certain guys to step up their performance? Just curious if you could provide some insight to what happens behind the scenes -- Irwin (New Hampshire)

A. It's not time to push the panic button. Brady knows that and so do the Patriots. All they'll do now is focus on the New York Giants. This may be a different answer if they lose to the Giants this week, but as of right now they're just thinking about getting back on the winning track.

I think we're a long way off from the panic button.

Q. Tedy, do you think the "Patriot Way" Is becoming a problem? Belichick seems like he will cut any starter for non-football reasons when he has no better option in the lineup. Leigh Bodden didn't look all that bad in his last two games, yet he gets cut and his backup [Antwan] Molden was brutal. Thoughts? -- Darren (Edmonton)

A. Cutting a player when Coach Belichick believes his time is done is the Patriots Way. He will do what he thinks is best for the team, whether you disagree with it or not. There have been plenty of moves I haven't agreed with, dating all the way back to Lawyer Milloy, but they still get done and you have to focus on your job.

Q. Hi Tedy. Aside from the defense, the one thing that really scares me as a Pats fan is the lack of having a different dynamic on offense. For example, yesterday by playing cover 1 and jamming the receivers at the line of scrimmage, the Steelers were daring the Pats to challenge them deep. However, we don't have that dynamic on offense. So in essence, if you get a lead on the Pats, and eliminate the short and intermediate routes, you essentially stop the Pats offense. Your thoughts? -- Jon (Chicago)

A. The Steelers have the rare combination to be able to play that type of man coverage and apply quick pressure. Man coverage is very beatable for this team, but protection comes into account in beating man coverage. LaMarr Woodley was the difference on Sunday. While receivers fought to get open, Woodley was able to pressure Tom Brady. If you get that combination, and many teams don't have it, that's when the Patriots have problems.

Q. Care to pile on Tebow? -- Craig (California)

A. I'm not going to pile on Tim Tebow, but tell you that it's still early. If he doesn't show improvements in the next month, conclusions will be made by the organization and fans.

Q. Tedy, in no way am I kidding when I ask: 'Can you suit up for some games?' -- Bobby (New York, New York)

A. Bobby, I've got a new job now, and it's chatting with you every Monday. We'll see you next week.

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th-anniversary team.