<
>

Is the defense better? We'll find out soon

Instead of the traditional five observations in the Bruschi On Tap, we're switching things up on a more permanent basis to a weekly Q-and-A with fans posted every Monday. Join my weekly chat every Monday at 11 a.m. to have your question considered. Here we go …

Q. The defense seemed to dial up some pressure on Mark Sanchez through blitzes that they haven't done against any other QBs this season. Was the game plan specific for this Jets game, is this defense improving or was Bill Belichick willing to roll the dice this week? -- P. (Boston)

This is a game plan defense. Philosophies will change from week to week. What you're starting to see is the 3-4 re-emerging, being used as a changeup to the 4-3.

Q. Five games in and Chad Ochocinco is still lining up incorrectly. Looks like he still hasn't learned the playbook. Is he officially a lost cause? -- Jane (NYC)

Tedy: I'm not going to call him a lost cause, but it's close. The Patriots have the bye after the Dallas game, and if he's still having problems after that, then it would be time to reassess his value to the team.

Q. I know it is hard to tell from the TV copy, but it seems like the linebackers (Gary Guyton specifically) struggle to get off of blocks. I'm certainly no expert, but it seems like they let linemen and other downfield blockers get into their body or get their hands on them. I can think of more than a few plays where Guyton got completely taken out of the play (Jets rushing touchdown) or where Rob Ninkovich was pushed 10 yards downfield on a rushing play. Is this technique, physicality, instincts or just me being picky? -- Rob (Tiverton, R.I.)

Tedy: I think it's all of the above, Rob. There are always plays LBs will want to have back. Let's remember that Guyton is replacing Jerod Mayo, and that can be tough for a LB when you're going from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in a game. Let me bottom line this for you: The Jets rushed for 97 yards. That's a good day when the head coach announced to the world that they were going to return to ground and pound.

Q. Hi Tedy, like me you must be giddy about a W over a division rival. Excited to see the "new-look" of the offense by having a balanced game to beat the Jets, but for how long will this honeymoon last? We haven't played a game where we were significantly behind, to have that pressure on the defense. The pass defense is still trying to find its identity, do you think it will come together in time? After watching the Packers-Falcons last night, I am not sure if this defense could rise to the challenge like the Packers did. -- DFWPatsFan (Arlington, Texas)

Tedy: The more this team wins, the more time it's buying its defense -- time to improve, time to get better in practice during the week. I think this defense has the talent to rise to the occasion later in the year. Right now, they still need work. This next game will be a test because Dallas has the third ranked pass offense in the NFL.

Q. How do you think the Patriots' defense matches up against the Cowboys' offense? The Cowboys' aerial attack concerns me with the way our secondary has been exposed in these first few weeks. Will it be more important to take Jason Witten or Dez Bryant away from Dallas? -- Scott K (Salisbury, Md.)

Tedy: The early edge goes to Dallas, especially with Miles Austin returning from a hamstring injury. Dez Bryant will be a go. He should be healthy from that quad injury. Witten leads the team in almost every important category, and the guy can block. This will be a huge test for the Patriots' defense.

Q. OK, not sure whether the victory was the defense improving or the Jets' offense not clicking. Still saw a defense that was a step behind on plays and was lucky that Sanchez wasn't more accurate. Did you see any real improvement? I think Haynesworth can be a factor if he ever gets in good enough shape to stay on the field? -- Mac (Southington, Conn.)

Tedy: Right now, Albert Haynesworth looks like he's far from being in midseason form. A back injury for a defensive lineman can be a serious deal. When you see him cramping on the field while he's playing in a rotational basis, that speaks volumes about his conditioning. This team needs Haynesworth to contribute. On the Patriots' defense, I'm going to temper any excitement until after this Cowboys game.

Q. Tedy, BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a great game yesterday, but when do you think that the rookie, Shane Vereen, gets some touches? -- Matt (New Jersey)

Tedy: As long as Green-Ellis and Stevan Ridley are playing the way they are, you won't see much from Shane Vereen. That's what you want as a Patriots fan. Ridley is a good changeup, but I've said this for weeks: Green-Ellis is your workhorse. Did you see how he carried Sione Pouha into the end zone? That is the difference between BJGE and the two rookies: the lower-body strength and the ability to carry defenders for that much-needed final yard.

Q. I thought the last drive of the game was the best drive of the season so far because the Patriots ran the ball effectively even when the Jets knew that they were going to run. Tedy, what are your thoughts on the Patriots' running game? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)

Tedy: Whenever this running game is called upon, it delivers. I was also fired up about that last drive. Six-plus minutes left to go, and the drive finished with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal and the ballgame was sealed. The Jets pride themselves on defense. Everyone in the stadium knew the Patriots would run and the Jets still couldn't stop them. That's a sign of dominance.

Q. Tedy, congratulations on finishing the BAA Half Marathon! I finished right behind you yesterday -- what were your thoughts on the race and how did the training for the race compare/contrast with the rigors of preparing for an NFL season? -- Eric (Sudbury, Mass.)

Tedy: First of all, thanks. My time was 2 hours, 10 minutes, 5 seconds. Just to put it all out there, my wife's time was 2 hours, 10 minutes and 4 seconds. It was a great experience, a fantastic race, but the training couldn't be more different. For me, running is all about endurance. Football training is all about explosion. I used to train for eight-second bursts. My how things change.

Q. Do you think the Jets are still legitimate contenders to win the AFC East? -- James (New York)

Tedy: As of right now, I think they're done. With reports of dissention in the locker room, there have been two weeks in this three-game losing stretch where they have been beaten by their own game. The Raiders pounded them with Darren McFadden, and the Patriots outrushed them 152 yards to 97. There is still time for them, but with the emergence of Buffalo, they are on the outside looking in. It is a real possibility they miss the playoffs.

Q. Tedy, which Patriot DB is going to step up and become a leader (i.e. Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Lawyer Milloy, etc.)? Because right now every NFL team can light up this secondary. Our third-down defense in the second half Sunday was atrocious. -- Brian (Florida)

Tedy: Brian, the Jets were held to 3-of-11 on third down. That's 27 percent. Pretty good. But to your question, I like what I see from Patrick Chung. If he stays healthy, and continues to play well, he may be the complement to Vince Wilfork and Mayo as that leader who plays in the secondary.

Q. Is Belichick bringing his defense along slowly due to inexperience of the players? Seems like they are running a very basic defense. -- Dan (Boston)

Tedy: Dan, if you look closely, you see elements of pressure and you're starting to see multiple fronts, with the 3-4 starting to reintroduce itself. Based on past experiences, I'd say yes. It is possible that Coach Belichick is taking his time in this regard. In the past, Patriots defenses have come out in Week 1 with multiple fronts and multiple looks. You're finally seeing them now, after the first few weeks of the season.

Q. Hey Tedy, Best QB playing right now in the league is …? Do you want to see a Brady-Aaron Rodgers Super Bowl? -- Derrick (Pennsylvania)

Tedy: The best QB in the league right now isn't 1 and 2, it's 1 and 1a. Fill out 1 and 1a however you want to with Rodgers and Brady. I don't think any fan would mind having either of those guys. A Green Bay/New England Super Bowl? Shades of '96. Don't remind me.

Q. Hey Tedy! Last week, I saw a breakdown of last year's playoff loss to the Jets where Brady had recognized a weakside OLB blitz and shifted Danny Woodhead to that side to counter it. The Jets then adjusted when they saw this and switched the blitz to the now unprotected side and got a free hit on Tom. Why don't teams do this more often? -- Justin (Sharon)

Tedy: You have to have players who are smart enough to make those adjustments, and you have to have a defensive coach who has enough trust in his players to let players make those adjustments. Rex Ryan is that type of coach and Bart Scott/David Harris/Jim Leonhard are that type of player.

Q. How about the development of Rob Ninkovich? Are we seeing the next Mike Vrabel? -- MarkJ (Japan)

Tedy: He wears the same number and actually looks a little like Vrabes. But at this point in Ninkovich's career, I'd still give the edge to Vrabel. Don't get me wrong, Ninkovich is solid, though. But Vrabel was a special player.

Q. Wilfork is seeing a lot more of the field on third and long than he has in the past. He does not seem to generate much penetration on the pass rush, although I'm sure he is being double-teamed on a majority of the plays. Do you see him as more valuable eating up blockers and allowing others to have one-on-one matchups, or do you think the Pats think he can get to the quarterback? Does the distinction even matter? -- Chris (Coppell, Texas)

Tedy: Right now, Wilfork is the best they've got, hands down. That's why they want him on the field. A healthy, contributing Haynesworth would help, but until then, Vince is going to be looked upon to be that guy. Quarterbacks better watch out, because he's now a new threat in coverage.

Q. A little off topic: Regarding the 0-5 Colts -- is Peyton Manning's singular presence THAT important or is the team just coincidentally going downhill? -- Matt (East Brookfield, Mass.)

Tedy: Unfortunately it seems like Peyton is the difference. When Tom Brady went down, and Matt Cassel came in, we took it upon ourselves to show we were still a good football team even without Brady. We won 11 games. I believe the Colts players have that type of pride also. But one mistake I recognize is bringing Kerry Collins in; that's still puzzling to me. He was clearly retired, and this type of start for them was inevitable due to Collins' lack of knowledge in this offense. I would have gone with Curtis Painter from the beginning.

Q. Regarding Aaron Hernandez's drop in the end zone that was intercepted by Antonio Cromartie, is that a case of the knee brace playing tricks on your mind? -- Vikram (Boston)

Tedy: You hit it on the head Vikram, with the knee brace. Even when a player comes back from a reported MCL injury, you feel clumsy. I expect Hernandez to do better in the weeks to come, but that first week back from an MCL injury can be difficult. When Mayo comes back from his reported MCL injury, I anticipate the same type of process the first week back.

Q. I guess I may just be overly critical, but I'm looking for someone on defense to really step up the physicality. It looks like Brandon Spikes may help answer the call, but I am recalling the days of Roman Phifer and his big hits and Ted Johnson taking on guards and winning. I know they were exceptional, but I'm just looking for a mean streak that I haven't seen yet out of this defense. -- Rob (Tiverton, R.I.)

Tedy: You're right by recognizing it was Spikes, Rob. I see it, too. It's just that Spikes isn't usually counted on every down. When you go up against a team that likes to run the ball, you need that type of guy. Spikes can definitely be that guy.

Q. Have we finally found a serviceable combo at safety with Patrick Chung? -- Burkie (Boston)

Tedy: I haven't come to a conclusion on James Ihedigbo yet. He was playing against a team he was familiar with, being a former Jet. Chung will be driving the bus one day. He's here to stay. Looking forward, the complementary safety position may be one of the top offseason needs for the Patriots.

Q. Has Brian Waters been the most valuable pickup of the offseason? -- David (North Attleboro, Mass.)

Tedy: The best thing I can say about Waters is that you haven't noticed him negatively (outside of a false-start penalty in Miami). Yes, he's seamlessly become a member of that offensive line. He's been a huge pickup for the Patriots. He has a great number, too.

Q. Do you see a similar game plan against the Cowboys to the one the Patriots used against Chargers? Take out the tight end? -- Mike (Newton, Mass.)

Tedy: Let's end on this one, Mike. I think Witten is better than Gates, who has been hobbled. I would make Tony Romo try to complete passes to his receivers. While those receivers are dangerous too, one pass to those receivers is one fewer pass to Witten, and those are often easier passes over the middle of the field.

Overall, this next week will be a different beast, as you're looking at the No. 1 defense against the run. They're the fourth ranked defense in yards. And they come in with a pass offense that can move the ball in the air. The Cowboys' defensive coordinator is Rob Ryan, so it will be a game where the Patriots' offensive coaches will have to sideline adjust against Ryan and his complex schemes. Should be a big test.

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