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Monday, November 19, 2012
Gronk loss comes at a bad time

By Tedy Bruschi
ESPNBoston.com

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

Rob Gronkowski's broken forearm and the aggressiveness (or lack of it) of the Patriots' defense were big topics in the wake of the Patriots' 59-24 thumping of the Colts.

Let's begin...

Q. Looks like the stockpiling of tight ends has paid off for Bill Belichick. Smart move. Rob Gronkowski is a big loss but with Aaron Hernandez expected back, Visanthe Shiancoe getting acclimated, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui, I think the Pats will be able to survive until the playoffs. -- Mike (Westwood, Mass.)

Rob Gronkowski
Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski won't be doing any spiking for a while.

A. That's just the thing. I think the Gronkowski injury is more serious than you do. I do have faith in Hernandez and I hear good things about Shiancoe. And the other tight ends can pick up the slack. But Gronkowski's production is unmatched. Gronkowski's effect on a defensive game-plan is unmatched. This is a critical time of year. This injury has a huge impact because this is Thanksgiving week, and the Patriots always stress playing their best football around this time of year. I think we all agree that Sunday against the Colts was an example of their best football. They need to continue to win games with playoff positioning in mind. They are one game behind the Ravens (two if you include the tiebreaker) and two games behind the Texans in terms of getting one of the top two seeds in the AFC (and with it a first-round bye). If they lose another game while acclimating to the loss of Gronkowski, now you're looking at the Patriots possibly playing on wild-card weekend. That makes the journey to the Super Bowl that much tougher.

Q. Why is Gronk in there on the PAT on which he was injured? I say he needs to be in there, this is a team that has struggled to close the door in games both offensively and defensively. The coaching staff can't say play 60 minutes then start pulling people too early! -- Jason (Montpelier, Vt.)

A. Jason, you always leave your starters in on the PAT, even on the field-goal block team. When I was playing defense and we were blowing out an opponent, you were told, "You're out of the game now, Tedy, but you're still on the field goal block team." It's just the way it is in football. The forearm injury to Gronkowski is unfortunate. The projected time for him to miss is four to six weeks, per some reports. From my experience, it can be significantly less. Mike Vrabel broke his forearm one year. After surgery, they put in one plate and 11 screws. He missed three games. I know Gronkowski is tough, but Mike Vrabel's toughness was legendary. So it all depends on the player. I would doubt that Gronkowski is out the full six weeks.

Q. Hey Tedy, who would you pick as the secondary starters in the base package? Aqib Talib is a lock at CB, but would you play [Devin] McCourty there, too? He has done well in recent weeks at safety, and I wondered what you think his best position might be? -- Adrian (London)

A. Yesterday, your two starting CBs were Talib and Kyle Arrington, with Alfonzo Dennard also in the mix. I was interested in seeing Ras-I Dowling, but with him on injured reserve, the questions will be there with him for another year. I think McCourty needs to stay at safety. He's a top athlete. In terms of him making plays as the last line of defense, that's really why he's there. He's tackling well, he's making plays down the field. The more he makes plays, the more he solidifies his spot there -- this year.

Q. Tedy, why don't the Patriots blitz more often? Against the Colts you could see that they look good on some of the plays when they send more than four rushers. We don't have a consistent pass rush so why not blitz more often? I know that Bill Belichick doesn't want to give those big plays, but still, man, this team has shown some good things when they blitz we saw some of those against the Rams and again yesterday against the Colts. -- Mani (Montreal)

A. Mani, the more you blitz, the more you leave a struggling secondary in one-on-one coverage. Once the secondary looks solidified -- and it is getting there with players generating some continuity -- the more pressure Matt Patricia will feel comfortable calling.

Q. I was encouraged with the defensive play calling against the Colts. I think the addition of Talib has allowed the defensive coordinator to coordinate more pressure with the front seven. I thought sending Brandon Spikes does a few things: (1) It takes him out of coverage, which is not his strong suit; and (2) adds pressure up the middle, which disrupts most quarterbacks. Love it and I hope to see more. I do not want to see Mark Sanchez sit back and pick apart a soft zone Thursday. -- Eric (Massachusetts)

A. I agree, Eric. The more Spikes attacks the line of scrimmage, it's better for the defense. When you're going up against a team that has a passing game based on play-action (the Colts have a strong element of that), Spikes is going straight ahead against any run look and if it turns into a play-action pass, he can continue as a pass-rusher. Expect more of the same against the Jets' offense, which also has elements of play-action.

Q. Tedy, I feel our pass coverage was a little better than past games, how much of it do you attribute to Talib's role? He wasn't in on all pass breakups, but do you think his presence helped? Also, it has been a while since I have seen Tom Brady make consistent long throws, especially after Randy Moss' departure. The overthrow over Brandon Lloyd, where was the breakdown there, bad route or bad throw? -- Ayush (Boston)

A. Ayush, I'm going to address your pass-coverage question here. What I saw in Talib is basically who he is. The ball seems to find him. Some players have that, some players don't. To have another playmaker like that in your secondary is a positive. But I still saw problems in the Patriots' secondary. On the 14-yard touchdown pass from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton, the Colts started in a bunch formation. Tight end Dwayne Allen stayed in for protection. Two receivers went out into the pattern and the outside receiver was Hilton, the inside receiver was Reggie Wayne. It was a double in -- a short in by Wayne and a deeper in by Hilton. Safety Steve Gregory jumped on Wayne, and Wayne was surrounded by four defenders, and Talib is clearly outleveraged to the inside, with plenty of space for the throw to be completed. This is the same problem that happened last week versus the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots are having a major problem in red-zone communication and coverage.

SportsNation

How much of an impact will Gronk's injury have on the Patriots?

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    27%
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    63%
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    10%

Discuss (Total votes: 25,193)

And on Brady and Lloyd, Brandon Lloyd is not Randy Moss. The more I look at him, the more I don't see him as a deep threat. A good receiver, he is. But let's not compare him to Moss.

Q. Do you think the Patriots are Super Bowl contenders? -- Ben (Scottsburg, Ind. )

A. Ben, the answer is "yes." I think the good teams are starting to separate themselves now. On Sunday, New England looked like the class of the AFC, with Denver not far behind. I'd like to see the Patriots continue to win and compete for the No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Byes are always nice to have and make your path to the Super Bowl that much easier. Before it's all said and done, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston will all have to be dealt with.

Q. Hey Tedy, I know this is on ESPN Boston, but how about some love for your Arizona Wildcats! Seven wins already in their first year under Rich Rodriguez! -- Jason (Tucson)

A. Two words: Bear down!

Q. Do you think our defense can build on the success of Sunday's game or do you think this was more of a "game-by-game" defensive scheme? -- Leslie (Lincolnville, Maine)

A. Leslie, this is always a game-by-game defensive scheme coaching staff. They will look at the next opponent and put together a plan that they feel has the best chance at being successful. But the more time you get with Talib at CB and McCourty at safety -- and you know those two constants will be there -- consistency can start to be developed and that's big.

Q. Hey Tedy! I'm liking the improvement I'm seeing in pass defense (McCourty knocking the ball out of receivers' hands, capitalizing on poor throws with INTs, overall tighter coverage), but I'm seeing an alarming trend of teams being able to run on us. The Bills I can understand (they have one of the best RB tandems in the league), but Vick Ballard was running all over us until the score forced them to be one-dimensional. What gives? -- Justin (Sharon)

A. With the defense that the Patriots have, every handoff is one less attempt down the field. Right now, you want the fate of this defense in the hands of Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo.

Q. Hi Tedy, as a former defensive player, would you have rather played in a more aggressive defense, where blitzes are more common (maybe like that of the Jets)? After 10 games now, most would agree that the Patriots' defensive philosophy is to avoid the big plays and wait for the offense to mess up (aka "causing" turnovers like Sunday.) So my question, as a player, would you rather play a very aggressive defense (which the media/fans seem to be pushing for), which would likely lead to the opponent's offense to either go three and out or hit a big play, or would you rather play the current Patriots defensive philosophy where you'll "concede" the offense's ability to move the chains, but make the offense run many plays in hopes for a turnover? Would the latter make you frustrated as much as the fans? Which style would you like more? -- Charlie (Boston)

A. Charlie, I remember being in a defensive meeting one year when we were struggling over a multiple-week span. Some of the defensive backs were complaining that the calls weren't aggressive enough. I actually spoke up in the meeting and confronted the DBs about the possibility of making a play in any defense -- whether it was aggressive or conservative. Charlie -- you don't need an aggressive defensive call to make a play. It can be a generic cover-2 and you can make plays. I'll give you an example: The defense of the Chicago Bears this year. Lovie Smith runs a cover-2 based scheme that lets their front four rush the passer. Would you say that's an aggressive defense? I would. They lead the league in defensive touchdowns this year (seven). It's not about the scheme. It's about the players making the defensive call work, whatever the call may be. I feel like I'm talking to the DBs!

Rob Ninkovich
Tedy Bruschi thinks Rob Ninkovich deserves a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Q. Speaking of Mike Vrabel, how about Vrabel 2.0 -- Rob Ninkovich? All he does is make big plays. -- Chris (South Boston)

A. Let's start talking about Rob Ninkovich to the Pro Bowl. He has five forced fumbles and six sacks. He may not get as much publicity as other players, but this is a Pro Bowl-caliber player. Voting has started, people. Get online and give him a little love. You're right, he is similar to Mike Vrabel the way he goes about getting the job done. Could he come back from 11 screws and a plate in his forearm in two weeks? I don't know about that. No one will ever match Vrabel's toughness, but Ninkovich is great in his own way.

Q. Tedy, how does a player feel when he gets injured and misses some games during the season? We often hear that injuries are part of the game, but on a personal level, it must be a tough time for him. -- MarkJ (Japan)

A. Mark, it is tough. I remember Rosevelt Colvin injuring his hip in 2003, and we went on to win the Super Bowl. It was tough for him not to participate in that success. The next year, we won the Super Bowl and Rosie was a big part of it. It meant a lot for the guys to win a Super Bowl with him on the field. Players want to play. Some injuries you understand. "I'll miss 2 weeks and I'll be back." But man, it depends on what those 2 weeks are.

Q. Tedy, what do you see the Pats doing when Patrick Chung is healthy? Will McCourty continue to play safety due to the strong play of Dennard and the acquisition of Talib? Or do you think they will move him back to corner to pair with Talib, use Dennard at the nickel, and cut Arrington out of the base and sub defenses? -- Ryan (Swampscott, Mass.)

A. Ryan, as good of a corner as I believe McCourty can be, I feel he should be at safety for the rest of the season, not only because of his athletic ability and intelligence, but also because you're starting to see improvement from him at safety -- he has great range and he can tackle. Let them figure out what to do with Gregory and Chung for the other safety position. I feel McCourty gives them the best chance to win as the last line of defense.