Print and Go Back ESPNBoston [Print without images]

Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: October 23, 8:35 AM ET
A win's a win... right?

By Tedy Bruschi

Join my weekly chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q-and-A.

OK, everybody, after the Patriots' 29-26 win over the Jets, I can understand all the concerns about New England's' secondary, about the play-calling, about the offense -- you want greatness and you want greatness now. But it's not about a team being great in October. This team has its issues, for sure. But it's about solving those issues come December.

Q. Hi Tedy, based on your playing experience and on game film, are the opposing O-Lines getting away with some blatant holding? Watching at home, it looks like Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones are getting strangled on many plays, resulting in Russell Wilson, Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco getting the extra time to make needed throws. -- Tom R. (Worcester, Mass.)

A. OK, Tom, holding happens on every play in the NFL, especially in pass protection. Offensive linemen are coached to punch and grab and veterans know when to let go. The same can be said for defensive holding. You know what you can get away with. I remember coaches saying, "They're going to hold you, don't let them hold you."

Q. Tedy, how much of this offense's problems are the players' fault and how much is play calling a factor? They look so predictable to me right now and I am a mere fan. With the game on the line, I want the ball and offense in Brady's hands not the play calling! -- Neil P. (North Branch, Mich.)

A. Neil, when it comes down to it, I would also rather have the ball in Tom Brady's hands. It's been shown throughout the course of this year, when they spread it out and let Brady throw the ball, they do have success. But that can't be the case over an entire game, for a 16-game season. You have to have balance. You still have to run the ball. In terms of the play-calling against the Jets, I don't remember shaking my head on any plays that were run.

Q. Tedy, thanks for the Chat -- love it! Everyone keeps talking about all the offensive weapons that the Patriots have -- Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, a renewed running game -- so, why is the offense struggling so much? I don't know of many teams that have the top-notch depth of talent in the secondary to match up with the Patriots' receivers. What are the other teams doing so well? -- Joseph K. (Andover)

A. Joseph, you have to understand something -- the Patriots were playing without two of their best interior offensive linemen. Logan Mankins was out and Dan Connolly was out after the first series with an illness. I'm having trouble finding where the real struggles are here. The one problem I might have had, with 5 minutes left and the Patriots up by 3, there was the offensive pass interference on Brandon Lloyd that stalled the drive. This was a tight, AFC East game.

Mark Sanchez
To see a quarterback like Mark Sanchez have such success against the Patriots (328 yards, 1 TD) is worrisome for sure, says Bruschi.

Q. Hi Tedy. Do you think that we need to sacrifice our run defense to improve our pass defense? I mean, to line up in sub packages more often to prevent the big play (I think it was 33 pass plays of 20 yards before yesterday) and let Vince Wilfork and the guys handle the run with less than seven guys. Or should we just keep going and hope our secondary improves enough along the season? One thing's for sure: We can't do this anymore. Thirty points should be more than enough for a win. -- Snir G. (Raleigh, N.C.)

A. The big plays are very concerning. This is a reputation the Patriots defense has developed -- to test them down the field. To see Mark Sanchez have success down the field is very discouraging. I think what's most worrisome are the injuries to Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung. Not only does that affect your safety position, it affects your cornerback position because you're taking your best CB (Devin McCourty) and lining him up at safety. There is a trickle-down effect. Until they get healthy, offenses will continue to challenge them down the field.

Q. Why do the Patriots always send four rushers and never blitz? -- Chris (California)

A. Chris, it depends on the game plan. Sometimes they can be blitz heavy. Sometimes they won't be. Against the Jets, you might have noticed Jerod Mayo over the center, Nick Mangold, to create a five-man pass rush look. He was running games. That was one of their formulas for pressure.

Q. Speaking of Mayo, what a tough dude! The inury there looked like it could have been really bad. -- Gooby (Boston)

A. Mayo and this entire linebacking corps is tough. Dont'a Hightower got back as quickly as he could from a hamstring pull. Mayo goes down and it looks like he's in serious pain, and he's back after a few plays. And Brandon Spikes keep knocking people out, like he did on the hit on Shonn Greene. Then you have Ninkovich in there too, and it seems like he makes plays whenever they're needed. This is a tough, physical group.

Q. Hey Tedy, many of the talking heads on the local sports-radio stations are saying this team is worse than last year at this point. I understand that based on their record they certainly are. However, based on a 'look and feel' test, I feel like this is a good team struggling through injuries and inconsistencies of young players. I also remember around this point last year, even with their 5-1 record, thinking that team was terrible. Ended up being a team that was one catch away from winning the Super Bowl. What's your feeling at this point, one game away from the bye? -- Tron (Waltham)

A. It's not too bold of a statement to say they are worse than last year. Their record reflects that, just like you said. I think you are exactly right when you say this is a good team struggling through injuries. Both starting safeties were down yesterday. Two of their best offensive linemen were out. And this team still fights to get the win. That's the way I see it. My feeling one game away from the bye is this: If you look at the rest of the AFC, the majority of the conference is in the same boat that the Patriots are in. The Ravens are 5-2, but they're struggling. The best team in the conference right now is the Houston Texans, but they were blown out last week at home by the Packers. So who scares you? The Chargers gave up a 24-point lead against the Broncos on Monday night, but they're still tied for first place in their division. The AFC title is up for grabs. It's anybody's game right now.

Jerod Mayo left Sunday's game after appearing to suffer a painful injury, but managed to return to the field a few plays later.

Q. Tedy, what needs to be done to adjust the situation with the Patriots' secondary? Would you lean more toward personnel/position changes or do you think more time/practice will help solve this riddle? This team needs to be more complete if they want to make it back to the Super Bowl. -- Shawn B. (New Jersey)

A. Everyone wants to look toward the playoffs right now, Shawn. You're mentioning the Super Bowl and it's way too early. Everyone wants to fix the secondary. So does Coach Belichick. He's willing to make a move so drastic as to put his best cornerback at safety. He's doing everything he can to fix that problem. As Steve Gregory and Patrick Chung get healthy, and get back on the field, the secondary situation should improve. I've seen this type of set-up before. The shuffling of pieces along a particular unit in the early parts of a season. But by the time the fourth quarter of the season comes, lineups are figured out, problems are solved, and then you go on a run.

Q. Lets give this team some credit. Everyone is on their case, but the defense got a huge stand to hold the Jets to a field goal and leave Tom Brady with 90 seconds and a time-out. Then Brady did what he does and got them to OT and put up another 3 (not sure how Kyle Wilson's first pass interference against Aaron Hernadez was different from third-down stop, but oh well). Then the D got a big stop in OT. Maybe not devastatingly and overwhelmingly talented, but a mentally tough bunch, right? -- Mike (DC)

A. Yes, Mike, I'd agree with you. The players on this team have had their mental toughness tested throughout the season. You now had two games with the possibility of dropping below .500, but they fight to stay on top of the AFC East. You just had a game where all three units of your team scored -- offense, defense and special teams. This is what had to be done to beat the Jets and they got it done.

Q. I know we gave up plenty of yards through the air, but for three quarters of football I thought we played good defense giving up field goals and not touchdowns. What is the reason for fourth-quarter meltdowns on defense? -- Jonny (England)

A. The Patriots did tighten up vs. the Jets when they had to defensively. But you're right, the fourth-quarter letdowns are concerning. They were outscored by the Jets 13-3 in the fourth quarter, and in the last three games, it's 34-6 in the fourth quarter. This isn't charactertistic of a Bill Belichick-coached team. Usually, game plans are solid, and within the course of the game adjustments are made that positively affect the outcome toward the end. This is a big concern that I have. It can be a case of players not executing adjustments that are made in-game, or there aren't enough in-game adjustments being made.

Q. Hi Tedy, thanks for the chat. I've been watching the Pats since the '80s and I think that Brady is right in saying the fans are spoiled. Some perspective is needed for many fans. Can you help with that? -- Mary (Pennsylvania)

A. It always is a goal for players to spoil the fans. It means the team is winning, they're winning consistently, and the fans are now used to it. This raises the level of expectations. And the expectations for the Patriots should always be high. The players' expectations for themselves should be high. But when it comes to yesterday, you're playing without key players in crucial positions (safety, interior OL). This team held on yesterday. It seems like they need to buy time for this team to get better and healthier. When you have those problems, and you still win a game, that's a good sign.

Stephen Gostkowski
One of the big positives to come out of Sunday's win: Stephen Gostkowski returned to his clutch form.

Q. Alright Tedy, I know I'm being a homer, but when does the offense go for the jugular and the defense stop being a liability? I know the players on the field are more talented than they're playing. When do we see them "gel"? -- Wes (Indianapolis, Ind.)

A. You talk about jugular, to go for the victory and try to win the game. Late in the game, Tom Brady had multiple shots down the field to Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker. At the end of the fourth quarter, they're not playing for the field goal. Brady is trying to hit Lloyd in the end zone for a touchdown. That's going for the jugular, if you ask me. They just have to execute better.

This offense is No. 1 in points scored, No. 1 in yards per game, and No. 1 in first downs per game. They're moving the ball, people.

Q. Tedy, do you think with less practice time because of the new CBA, it has caused some of the problems the Pats are having? -- John (Marlboro)

A. I think that takes away from coaches working on the physical aspects of your game a little more. Coaches are now getting used to the new practice schedule and contact limitations. Coach Belichick put it best in his post-game remarks when he said it's a race to see who gets better the fastest. At this point of the season, especially in the AFC when you're lumped in with everyone else, this isn't about who you are now. It's about who you're going to be.

Some issues have already worked themselves out before your very eyes. For all of you that had questions about your kicker making a pressure kick, you've got to feel good about what you saw. Stephen Gostkowski had to make a kick to tie, and he had to make a kick to win. And the defense had to take advantage of their chance to end the game, and Ninkovich and Cunningham got the job done.

(Editor's note: Next week's chat won't take place Monday, with the Patriots entering their bye week and returning from London. Once the date is solidified for the chat, we will post details in our Patriots blog.)