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Monday, October 1, 2012
Patriots finding their inner beast

By Tedy Bruschi
ESPNBoston.com

Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A. Here we go with some thoughts on the Patriots' Week 4 victory over the Buffalo Bills. Great game to watch!

Q. Hey Tedy! Loved you as a player and love you as an analyst. I appreciate you keeping it real with the Pats. I wanted to know your take on the second half of the game. Being that you have been in that room before, what do you think Coach Belichick said to those guys? The game was totally different after the Donald Jones touchdown in the third quarter. Thanks! -- Ryan (Modesto, Calif.)

A. The score was 14-7 at the half, Ryan, and the Patriots couldn't have been in a "better" position. They could have easily been down 21-7, but the Brandon Spikes hit on the goal line, in my mind, won the game. It took seven points off the board, and then the Patriots got the ball to start the second half. Seven points is nothing to that team. Coming out and just executing in the third quarter is what the players were talking about after the game, and I'm sure it's something Coach Belichick stressed, because a seven-point lead is never something to panic about.

Devin McCourty
Devin McCourty, whose mistakes at cornerback are often magnified because of the result, had a solid game Sunday.

Q. Hi Teddy. Did yesterday's game establish that that the Patriots have one of the best rush defenses in the league after holding the combo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson to under 65 yards and forcing fumbles from both of them and holding Chris Johnson under 10 yards in Week 1. -- Alec T. (Lehigh, Penn.)

A. Alec, the Bills had some success running the ball early, but as the game went on -- especially in the second half when the Patriots got ahead -- the Bills had to pass. Holding Spiller and Jackson to under 65 yards rushing is admirable, but the Bills' offense had to throw to keep up and that helped keep down the rushing totals.

Q. Great rushing attack. Was that because our backs and O-line did well or that the Bills' defense was too small? What can we expect moving forward? -- Andy (Berkshires)

A. The Patriots noticed that the Bills were in a smaller lineup. The Patriots' offense is always going to take advantage of matchups, but it was the kind of runs they were using that impressed me. This team has been a zone running team to start the year. The runs that were successful utilized misdirection in the backfield -- RBs starting one way in synchronization with the OL to give the illusion of a zone run, but countering back to the other side. Not only was the quarterback handing off to the RB, but I also saw a counter toss. What this does to a defense is when you see on film for the entire year the zone running game, and then you see it on the field, you react. If you're reacting to one side, and they counter back, the OL will take advantage of you getting out of position. It can only be one step, but that one step is enough for the offensive line to get angles on you. Great job by Josh McDaniels.

Q. How about Tom Brady getting in Brandon Lloyd's face after they hooked up for a garbage-time TD? The game was already over, but he was still fired up. That's the old Brady ... the one this team so desperately needs. You think he's back for real? -- Nick (Salem)

A. Nick, Brady never went anywhere. He's still for real, but what he's pumped up about is a spectacular catch being made by an outside receiver. He didn't have this all last year. Tom Brady wants to have the confidence to throw the ball wherever he wants on the field knowing the player he is throwing to has the ability to make the play. Last year, he was more in between the numbers oriented. If Lloyd continues to show he can make those type of catches, Brady will feel he has the entire field to work with, and that's dangerous.

Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd's acrobatic catch in the end zone should give Tom Brady more confidence to go deep this season.

Q. Hey, I'm curious of your opinion on this linebacker group. Looking into the future they could be special. There's some big hitters on this team. Your thoughts? -- Derek (Wayland, Mass.)

A. Derek, I feel the same way. I've said before that I'm enjoying watching Brandon Spikes play football, but now it's at an all-time level. This guy is a beast. This guy is going to start to get a reputation around the league as one of the hardest hitters in football. He knocked out Spiller to force that fumble on the goal line, and he just about put Fred Jackson to sleep. This guy is the hammer. And I love it.

Q. Hey Tedy, really enjoyed the game yesterday -- especially the second half! There were two interesting calls I wanted your view on. Going for the second field goal, when on fourth-and-short, should they have gone for it? The other was the decision to run out the clock with a minute left and one timeout. There was time to get into field goal range, but was that a sign of confidence in a team knowing they will get the ball back and didn't need to try to force it? -- Adrian (London)

A. Going for the field goal on fourth-and-short, I had no problem with that. The score was 7-7 and you're trying to get points on the board. On running the clock out, your defense just made a spectacular play to keep points off the board (Bills led 14-7). You were getting the ball to start the third quarter, and I can see the attitude of the team saying "let's win this game in the second half."

Q. Hi Tedy, the speed and attitude on D was impressive Sunday. Even at the half, the feeling was how were we behind? The Bills were hanging on. The scores to Scott Chandler were on good throws, so you cannot fault the young D too much. The missed tackling on the others is a bigger concern, as this needs to be solved quickly. In the NFL, quarterbacks will make good throws and receivers will catch them, but YAC will kill a team. Players seem to be taking wrong angles? Thoughts? -- Stuart (Cape)

A. Stuart, I didn't think missed tackling was a huge problem yesterday. Let's give the Bills' receivers some credit too -- these are big, strong, fast guys. Last week during the Ravens game on the Dennis Pitta TD, there is no excuse for those missed tackles. Tackling and fundamentals are something this defense will work on throughout the season. Right now, I just don't see it as a problem.

Q. Good morning Tedy; thanks for taking my question. Yesterday I saw the Devin McCourty I saw in 2010, and though I shouldn't be too simple with my thoughts, I really think he played the ball a lot smarter. He didn't allow himself to get beat badly (which always caused him to have to look back too late and get beat). Yesterday, I saw him have much more solid position, and be able to play the ball with better physicality. Could this be a real turning point in terms of confidence for McCourty? -- Tim (Brighton, Mass.)

A. Devin McCourty has been under the microscope of the Patriots' fans and media for the last two seasons. This guy has played extraordinary at times. Other times, he's played average. Welcome to the life of a starting cornerback in the NFL. There are going to be days when he makes mistakes. But as a cornerback, those mistakes are magnified because of the result. The result could be a pass interference call, a TD given up, or an interception. Defensive backs have to have short-term memories because that's just the way it's going to be. Ty Law got beat in his time too, but he always came back from it, and I see that from McCourty.

Q. Hi Tedy, the Patriots' offense put up 52 points, had 580 total yards with 333 coming through the air. The defense gave up 28 points with 340 passing yards. What's the up and down side for the Patriots' offense and defense after the Bills game? -- Rich (New Jersey)

A. This is a great question, Rich. The upside of the offense is that running game. You know Brady can always open it up and hit those receivers. But to have Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley (who is starting to grow on me) both go over 100 yards is impressive. The creativity of Josh McDaniels in the running game using misdirection vs. the Bills was fun to watch. The downside is seeing Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski fumble. When defenses see this, they'll start to realize that maybe Gronk isn't indestructible; he's not a machine out there scoring TDs every week. Maybe he's a ball-security liability. That's something you never want to put on film. Stephen Gostkowski missing two field goals is also something to be concerned about. Defensively, the positives are taking the ball away and delivering bone-jarring hits. This unit is starting to intimidate people and that's so fun to watch. The downside of the D is losing focus on third down. In the second quarter, the Bills had a third-and-10 around the two-minute mark. The Patriots dropped eight defenders and the Bills still converted. In the third quarter, at the 12:15 mark, the Patriots had a third-and-15, with Fred Jackson getting the ball on a screen and converted a first down. Those were the two most frustrating plays for me to watch. When you have a team in third-and-long, you have to get off the field.

Q. Tedy, how about Spikes? Looks like he's getting better every game. He might be one of the rising stars in the NFL. -- MarkJ (Japan)

A. Spikes is a beast. No, let me put it this way -- Spikes is a monster. Offensive players are going to watch film of him, and opposing running backs are going to be looking to find him before every snap because they're not going to want any of that.

One more thought: I almost see him as a combination of Ted Johnson and Rodney Harrison. He brings the intensity of Rodney Harrison. He'll talk trash in your face, knock you on the ground and let you know about it. But he brings the wood like Ted Johnson. That's a dangerous combination.

Brandon Spikes
Brandon Spikes, who forced this fumble by Fred Jackson, established himself Sunday as "a monster" whom opponents will keep an eye on, says Tedy Bruschi.

Q. Tedy, how's BB going to bring these guys back to earth this week? Any particular gimmick you recall him using after a game like this, with plenty of substantial flaws that could get swept under the rug in light of some really brilliant play at other times? -- Andy (D.C.)

A. Andy, it's simple. Denver beat Oakland, 37-6. Two words -- Peyton Manning.

Q. Hey Tedy, at what point does a team think about replacing a kicker? I personally feel Gostkowski is just in a funk, but I'm wondering how long it takes for teams to begin to think about looking elsewhere. He's been a great kicker for us, so I think he gets some leeway. Thoughts? -- Mike (Cubicle)

A. Gostkowski was recently signed to a contract extension. I don't think he's going anywhere. I don't have any concern. Billy Cundiff missed three kicks yesterday for the Redskins, but they put him out there for a game-winner and he made it. That's the life of a kicker. The concern is: Does it affect the way coaches make decisions when they get into field goal range? Do they still have confidence in him? Do they say "Put Gostkowski out there for the 45-yarder?" Or is it "Let's go for it" or "Let's punt it"?

Q. The Patriots had great success in their running game yesterday, with two receivers passing 100 rushing yards. Do you think they will stick with having a more "balanced" offense in weeks to come, or will their game remain more pass oriented? -- Shawn (Orlando, Fla.)

A. Shawn, this offense will call the game in terms of what gives them the greatest percentages to be successful. Buffalo decided to play small. If you play small and the Patriots are in the bigger set, they're going to run it. If you come out and try to play a team honest, and put your regular defense out there, that's when they'll hit you with the play-action passing game. This is a game plan team. Whatever they feel works, that's what they are rolling with. They aren't a "do-what-we-do" type of outfit.

Q. Hey Tedy, do you think this win validates Josh McDaniels' new offense, or was this just a matter of a Bills team lacking heart and giving up? -- Bill (Providence)

A. This game was a validation of the Josh McDaniels stamp. That running game has Josh McDaniels written all over it.

Q. First, I want to say great game Pats. I also want to make sure that number 50, Rob Ninkovich, gets some love, because he plays tough. I kept reading about how people wanted Jermaine Cunningham to start over him, but he proved doubters wrong. There is magic in the number 50 just like in number 54. What do you think about the team's mental toughness? They showed a lot of guts and determination. -- Britt (Georgia)

A. You can't have a championship defense without guys like Rob Ninkovich -- someone who can play multiple positions, someone you have confidence in that when someone goes down, he can fill that spot. And to have the debate of Ninkovich or Cunningham is a great thing, because that's when you know the depth of your team is starting to compete. Cunningham showed up yesterday, too. The more players you have fighting for playing time, the better. It keeps your starters focused when you know there is someone on your heels ready to step in if you can't do the job.