Join the conversation every week as former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss break down New England's upcoming game. This week, it's the Patriots (4-2) taking on the Buccaneers (0-6) on Sunday at London's Wembley Stadium
Mike: Tedy, let's start this week with the location of the game. As a player, would this be something you were looking forward to?
Tedy: I always thought it was exciting as a player to play a game in a new venue. You want to see London, it's a great place, but you're only going to see London from the bus window. All your work is done in the hotel. You might get out to dinner, but sightseeing is going to be difficult to do. You go there, get the victory any way you can, and get out.
Mike: I'm curious to see how much the trip plays a factor for both teams in terms of the quality of play.
Tedy: Both teams have to travel. Both have to get used to the time change. To me, it's about which team wants to sightsee more, say hello to the queen, and which team wants to go out and win a football game.
Mike: Before moving on, there are a few things to look back upon. The Patriots looked good in their 59-0 win over the Titans last week.
Tedy: I don't think last week was a true gauge of where the Patriots are against some of the undefeated elite teams in the NFL. But I'd say it was a game they definitely needed to get some more confidence in what they are doing, being able to have a game and walk away saying, "We fixed our problems, we're all on the same page, the defense had a shutout, and the offense scored a lot of points." It could be a momentum builder.
Mike: At the same time, one of the big stories was that linebacker Adalius Thomas was a healthy scratch. I was there in the locker room Wednesday when Thomas addressed reporters for the first time, and it looked to me like his pride was hurt. What are your thoughts on that situation?
Tedy: Back in 2006, when we lost to the Broncos, I was at inside linebacker along with Junior Seau. The next day, Coach Belichick pulled me and Junior into his office and spoke to us privately, and he told us that with all the experience we had combined, we had put forth the worst performance he had ever seen by two inside linebackers. To watch the game, it wasn't glaringly awful and we didn't have individual plays where we gave up touchdowns. We didn't have penalties that cost us the game. But we did have bad reads versus the run. When we flowed left, it should have been right, or we stepped forward when we should have flowed over the top. Those were examples of mistakes we shouldn't have made. Then we went to the team meeting, and along with other mistakes the team made in the game, he showed the missteps that Junior and I had. That is how Coach Belichick calls out veteran players who he wants to play better for him and meet his standards, which are very high. He does it privately and then in front of the team. The deactivation of Adalius Thomas was public. It's a move where everyone can look at it and question it, and pull away every single layer to try to figure things out. That is different. Yes, Adalius does not have the best numbers right now -- 12 tackles and one sack. But just based on production, a deactivation isn't warranted. This has to be something else. This is a total different form of discipline than Bill typically uses with veteran players who have been productive over the course of their careers in New England, like Adalius has been for him. This is something to be watched closely as the season progresses. Will Adalius end up being a contributing member of the team once again? It's highly possible he can. But right now, he is in the doghouse, and Coach Belichick's is one of the toughest doghouses to get out of.
Mike: Interesting take, Tedy. Before we get to the Patriots-Buccaneers game, one last personnel issue to address is the release of receiver Joey Galloway.
Tedy: I think the answer was clear early on in the season, not only with Tom Brady being frustrated on the sideline but with Galloway's lack of effort, whether it was running across the middle or putting that extra in to learn the playbook. Usually, you give a player with Galloway's résumé a chance to continue to learn the system, but in this case they are acknowledging that the signing of Galloway was a mistake.
Patriots offense vs. Buccaneers defense
Mike: This game doesn't have a lot of intrigue to it, and it looks like a mismatch, Tedy. A few statistics that stood out to me -- the Buccaneers are surrendering an average of 8.47 yards per pass attempt and an average of 6.78 yards on first down. Both rank last in the NFL.
Tedy: For an offensive unit that was trying to find its identity for the first month of the season, these last two weeks have been the best medicine the Patriots could have received -- going up against a bandaged-together Tennessee defense and now a Tampa defense that is one of the worst in the league. Last week, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme passed for just 65 yards because all he had to do was hand the ball off. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart had more than 250 rushing yards combined. So I think the Patriots' offense just has to choose what it wants to do. Do they want to throw it or run it? Chances are they will be successful.
Mike: Any feel for what has gone wrong in Tampa?
Tedy: I wouldn't know where to begin. Ronde Barber and Barrett Ruud are athletic players, well-respected in the league; Chris Hovan is on the defensive line. But they have problems everywhere. Davin Joseph is a good offensive lineman. If you want to start somewhere, focus on stopping the run. Their problems look like they're going to take more than a week to fix.
Tedy: I agree. I looked at Vollmer very closely because usually the only time you notice a left tackle is when he makes mistakes. In that sense, Vollmer wasn't easily noticed, and that's the biggest compliment I could give him. He was covering up Kyle Vanden Bosch, showing athletic ability by making blocks on tear screens, pulling and covering up linebackers. Vollmer was a great pick by the Patriots. They were high on him back in training camp, and he's stepped into one of the most valued roles on the team.
Mike: On the injury front, it looks like the Patriots will be without rookie receiver Julian Edelman (broken forearm). That could mean Brandon Tate is activated off the non-football injury list, or Terrence Nunn could be promoted from the practice squad. Isaiah Stanback is another possibility.
Tedy: Nunn showed he had some ability in the preseason, but in the preseason things are very vanilla, especially offensively. Patriots offensive schemes are very complex, so I think the biggest question with these players is not ability but how much can they handle? Are they able to recognize man vs. zone coverage and make route adjustments on the fly? The Edelman injury is really a shame because he was starting to make tremendous progress as someone the Patriots could count on -- not only in the return game but with quality offensive repetitions. He was only getting better and the injury will slow that progress down.
Mike: Receiver isn't the only spot where the team has injury issues, Tedy. At running back, they'll probably be without Sammy Morris (knee), and we know they're going without Fred Taylor (right ankle).
Tedy: This is Laurence Maroney's chance and here's hoping he runs with it. I think the snow helped him last week. When you have a running back who has a tendency to dance around and try to continue to find the hole, that's something you can't do in the snow. In those conditions, you have to make a quick decision, see the hole, then hit it. If you don't hit the first hole you see, the snow prevents you from restarting. He didn't have that choice, because it wasn't possible that day, and by doing that he had production. You hope that he learned he doesn't need snow to make decisions to hit the hole and get 5 yards, rather than trying for 50 around the edge. Sometimes 5 is the most you can get on the play. As a running back, you sometimes have to know when the journey is over. I'm also excited to watch BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as I think he's a player fans can get excited about. He goes downhill and runs straight ahead. That approach is always respected in football circles.
Patriots defense vs. Buccaneers offense
Mike: One of the things we saw last week was the Patriots' return to the 3-4 defense. My sense is that we'll probably see more of it going forward.
Tedy: After the Broncos' offense made the Patriots' defense look like it didn't know what it was doing at times, the Patriots went back to basics. All the players on defense, when they came to the organization, from their first meeting, started to learn the Bill Belichick 3-4 defense. So after a week against the Broncos in which there was so much indecision, so much confusion, they went back to what they know and what they do best. Looking ahead to the Tampa Bay game, do they go back to the 4-3 or stay with the 3-4? I know one thing about Bill Belichick: When things get bad like they did in the Denver game, he goes back to what he knows works and the players he trusts. Obviously, last week, the answer was the 3-4.
Mike: Where do you start when looking at the Buccaneers' offense?
Tedy: Like most offenses you could start at quarterback, with Josh Johnson. When I watch him on film, I see an athlete. He's an athlete who is very raw. He has an arm and so much athletic ability, I think he sometimes trusts it too much. He'll be back there in the pocket and when he takes his first read and doesn't like it, he will take off. Other quarterbacks will sit in there a little longer, get to their second or third read, and deliver the ball. Since he trusts his athleticism and runs around so much, I noticed that he has terrible ball security. The ball is all over the place, so I think the Patriots will see him as a turnover target.
Tedy: I think Winslow, who came to Tampa Bay from Cleveland, is the best weapon they have. He is making athletic catches along the sidelines, in the red zone area, and in the middle of the field. He is playing some very good football, with 29 catches for 286 yards and four touchdowns. I think at times he can be so dangerous that you treat him like you would Tony Gonzalez. There were times, when Gonzalez was here in Week 3, that the Patriots had a linebacker hit him at the line of scrimmage before pushing him to Brandon McGowan, who covered him from the safety position. I think Winslow has to be respected the same way.
Mike: I'm glad you mentioned McGowan, because he's been one of the surprises of the season in my view, a solid free-agent find.
Tedy: He's the hardest hitter on the Patriots' defense right now, the one who forces the fumbles, makes the hits, who shows up around the ball all the time. I think the tandem of him and Brandon Meriweather is turning out to be one of the hardest-hitting safety tandems in the league. One of the things I've noticed is that they have to be good tacklers because cornerbacks Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite have not shown consistent tackling ability -- their form is not very good, their head is down, they're not wrapping up and finishing the tackle.
Mike: Staying on the topic of the Patriots' defense, DE Derrick Burgess has been pretty quiet to this point.
Tedy: You make a trade for a guy to produce, and as of right now, there hasn't been much production when he's been playing defensive end in third-down rushing situations. One sack isn't enough at this time of year. They are starting to put more on his plate. You saw him at 3-4 outside linebacker on Sunday, and that's a spot where you have to make multiple decisions -- when to walk out on a receiver, when to rush, when to drop. Sometimes you're working with the inside linebacker on your side and at times communicating across the line to the other outside linebacker. There is a lot on his plate now. I'd say let's not make a judgment on him just yet.
Mike: We covered a lot of ground, so let's wrap this up. I think if the Buccaneers are to have a chance, they'll have to win the special-teams battle. Still, it's hard for me to see the Patriots losing this one.
Tedy: I'd agree that for Tampa Bay to be competitive, special teams will have to be a key factor for them; Sammie Stroughter had a big return for a touchdown on Sunday. The Bucs will need turnovers from the defense to put their offense on a short field, and do it multiple times. I just don't think there is a team that wants to play the Patriots right now after the performance they had last week. Bill Belichick isn't the type to rest on his laurels. He pushes the pedal to the floor. He'll want to continue the development of the offense and defense this week. Development for him means production and decisive victories.
Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. Mike Reiss is the Patriots blogger for ESPNBoston.com. You can reach Mike by leaving a message in his mailbag.