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Monday, November 7, 2011
Let's see what Patriots are made of

By Tedy Bruschi

Instead of the traditional five observations in Bruschi On Tap, we've switched things up to a weekly Q-and-A with fans reflecting on the Patriots' last-minute loss to the Giants on Sunday. Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. to have your question considered. Here we go...

Q. Can you look into your crystal ball and predict what Bill Belichick will do about the a) sagging defense, b) tepid offense and c) passive play-calling? -- Shriram (Chennai, India)

The Patriots are basically stuck with guys like Sergio Brown as depth options in the secondary. In other words, they have to hope for improvement from within, not look for answers externally.

A. Defensively, there is no player the Patriots can sign off the street that will do a better job, that will solve all the problems. He's not coaching any differently. These are the players he has chosen. As we continue to watch the season, as sad as it may sound, you just have to hope the players there will get better.

Offensively, turning the ball over doesn't help. When Tom Brady has a bad day like he did Sunday, things aren't going to look good for the Patriots.

Q. I was too late last week so the stats may have changed, but how do you explain a defense that is dead last in the league. I get the change to 4-3, different personnel, but with BB we should never be dead last. -- Roger (Calif.)

A. Don't focus on the 4-3. That's not the problem. To me, the problems lie with the players executing Belichick's defenses. Especially the lack of depth. The revolving door in the defensive backfield is the biggest problem right now. So many players have come and gone, so when you have one starter go down, there is a huge drop-off. Even for just one play.

Q. Has Tom Brady really regressed? I know that's sacrilege, but he can't seem to get anything going with anyone other than Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski. Back in the day -- dare I say in his prime -- he was making average guys look like All Pros. Now he can't get the All Pros to look average!? -- Jimmy (Rhode Island)

A. Let's give some credit to the defenses he's played the last two weeks. The Steelers and Giants executed their game plans very well. Tight coverage on the wide receivers, coupled with pressure on Brady, and you have a recipe for success. It's just that few teams can get both of those things done. The Steelers and Giants are two of those teams that can.

Q. Eli Manning got the better of Tom Brady, 24-20, on Sunday. Do you think this was a Super Bowl preview? Who was the hero and goat, if there was one, in this game? -- Rich (New Jersey)

A. The Patriots are nowhere near Super Bowl ready. Neither are the Giants. It's still too early. There were many heroes for the Giants. I was most discouraged about the Patriots' defense not coming through in the end.

Q. Why don't the pats STICK with the run? It seems after a couple of short gains they decide they can't run and abandon it. When BenJarvus Green-Ellis touches the ball 20 times good things happen. -- Charles (Rhode Island)

A. This is not a running team. I know they came out running the ball, but watching them, you know it's not going to last. They'll eventually want to throw the ball on a regular basis. Their passing game sets up their run game.

Q. What is going on with the offense the last three games? This game against the Jets coming up is huge! How are they going to move the ball against the jets? -- Monte (Palestine, Texas)

A. I see this being another difficult week for the Patriots' offense. The Jets are playing well right now. They have the secondary that can man up against these receivers. I'm not sure they can apply the same type of pressure that the Steelers and Giants did, and if they can't, that means more time for Brady, which will give the receivers more time to create separation, and that's a chance for success.

Q. What area do you feel the Pats are in need of most improvement? It seems that as soon as one area begins to mend and show improving performance (defense), another area begins to falter (offense). I am worried given the AFC playoff picture that any further losses and we will be too far behind to even secure a wild card spot. -- Paul (San Antonio, Texas)

A. Defensively, this secondary has major problems. There are holes all over the place. They have especially been struggling in situational defense, such as two-minute drives. This is where the most improvement is needed. Offensively, another receiver has to emerge. The Chad Ochocinco relationship is at its worst right now.

Q. Do you think it's time for Belichick to get a defensive coordinator? I think he needs someone to challenge him with different views. In the world outside of football, opposing views is how things get better. -- Jeff (Rochester, N.H.)

A. That's a great thought, Jeff. He has two great candidates on staff right now in Pepper Johnson and Matt Patricia. Giving the title of defensive coordinator can give a coach a confidence boost to where he can call more shots.

Q. Was Brady's performance Sunday more of him forcing throws and making poor decisions, or receivers not getting open and forcing Brady to be perfect? -- Shaun (Boston)

A. Brady was off to start the game, there is no doubt about that. The sign of a great quarterback is how he can turn his performance around midgame. That's what Tom did. He put the Patriots in the lead with 1:36 left in the game One mistake I'd like to point out is Danny Woodhead running out of bounds on that final drive. The Patriots were obviously trying to score while taking as much time off the clock as they could. That was a huge error.

Q. Unfortunately, because of injuries Tracy White and Sergio Brown couldn't come up with big plays at the end of the game. Is the Patriots' lack of talented depth the killer for them on defense? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)

A. It's not only the lack of talented depth. It's also the lack of ability some of these starters have to execute.

Q. What do you think the Patriots' focus will be against the Jets? -- Brian (New York)

A. I think Brady was right when he said, "We'll see what this team is made of." It's tough in that locker room even after you win a game. It's even tougher when you lose two in a row. Coach Belichick can make it a stressful work environment, but he does that on purpose to test your mental toughness. These players have to realize they are the only ones that can turn this around. It's not about schemes this week. It's about them wanting to win one football game.

If you're looking for the Patriots to cut Chad Ochocinco, don't hold your breath.

Q. Why is Ochocinco still with the team? -- Jim (Rhode Island)

A. They are financially committed to this guy. I've seen early-round picks who should have been cut immediately but stuck around due to their draft position. This is the way the NFL is. The Patriots made a commitment to Chad, and I see them continuing to try to develop him. However, every throw that goes to Ochocinco is one less throw to Welker, Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez. Right now, if I'm a defender playing against the Patriots, I hope they target him five more times because that's five fewer their real playmakers will have.

Q. Do you agree that one of the biggest things missing from the Patriots' defense over the last several years is a major presence? Someone like yourself, Rodney Harrison, or Richard Seymour? Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Devin McCourty are great players, but I just don't see them stepping up on the field and being the Ray Lewis of the defense. Thoughts? -- Peter (Virginia Beach, Va.)

A. I think Mayo is a strong leader. However, when you're hurt, and you're busy rehabilitating, it's tough to continue in that strong leadership mode. Now that he's working his way back, playing every snap on Sunday, I see him starting to make more plays as we enter the holidays. He's your leader.

Q. Are the past few years of poor performance tarnishing Belichick's legacy as a defensive genius? -- John (New York)

A. I don't think so at all. When coaches are at the top of their game, and start to be labeled a genius, take a look at the players executing those schemes. Whether it's for Mike McCarthy and the Packers right now, or Belichick when he had those great defenses back with the Giants. The biggest difference is player execution, people. When you have so much shuffling on defense over the last couple of years like they've had, the chances of struggles are higher.

Q. Do you think that if the Patriots lose a third game in a row (to the Jets, too) this team falls apart without veteran leadership to keep them going? -- Tim (Massachusetts)

A. It's not out of the question that they will lose this week. All of those streaks mean nothing, which is the reason I picked the Giants last week. It hurt me to do so, but I'm trying my best to see this team objectively. I don't see them falling apart if they lose to the Jets. I almost see them coming together, because how much adversity have some of these young players faced? Maybe they need a little.

Q. I know this has been said a million times, but it's time to ditch Ocho and bring back Randy Moss!! Thoughts? -- Gavin (Barbados)

A. Like I said earlier, they are committed to Chad. I remember Chad referencing the New England Patriots as football heaven. The New England Patriots organization is NOT football heaven. It's "football academy," and it takes a certain person to succeed in an academy-like environment.

Q. What are your thoughts on the pass interference call on Sergio Brown? -- Mitch (Boston)

A. An easy call. It was pass interference. The theme of the year for Sergio Brown has been bad angles.

Q. What's your take on Albert Haynesworth? Seems like Belichick has faith in him and has plans for him in certain situations. -- Anonymous (Massachusetts)

A. That's exactly what Haynesworth is right now, a situational player who will get on average about 20 snaps a game. Any production out of those 20 snaps is a plus.

Q. Do you think as the season continues the Patriots will click on all phases, offense/defense/special teams? -- Kaylon (San Antonio, Texas)

A. It is still early. We're only halfway, but right now, I don't see it. Based on the last two weeks, what Coach Belichick refers to as complementary football is nowhere to be found. As for the rest of the season, I remember being 5-5 and still winning a Super Bowl. Anything is possible.

Q. Am I out of my mind to come away from Sunday's defensive performance with some hope? Yeah they only played 58 minutes when they needed to play 60 but that 58 minutes was the best I have seen in a long time. -- Jeff (Rochester, N.H.)

A. Aaah, here is my glass-is-half-full guy. I like it, Jeff. I too noticed some good things, but you have to finish.

Q. I don't understand how an organization that says it will do whatever it takes to win can have such a no-name defense in the prime of Brady's career. -- Adam F. (Needham, Mass.)

A. Coach Belichick will always do what he feels is best for this team, and if it means releasing veteran players and continuing to sign players until he finds the combination he's looking for, that's what players on the team accept. The window is still open for Brady's championship chances. Once again, we're just halfway. Let the Patriots lick their wounds for today, and then we'll see what they are made of in New York on Sunday.

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