Every week during the season, Mike Reiss and Tedy Bruschi break down the New England Patriots' upcoming game. This week is Sunday's home game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium (CBS, 4:25 p.m. ET).
Mike: There has been a lot of frustration among Patriots followers this week after what unfolded in the loss to the Seahawks. The players, meanwhile, have turned the page, and there is no looking back.
Tedy: I know they want to move on from that loss in Seattle, which was a huge lost opportunity for them, and there is no better opponent to move on to than a rival in your division.
Mike: If there is a hot topic surrounding the team right now, it's the beleaguered secondary.
Tedy: One thing you have to note here are the injuries they've had. Safety Steve Gregory has been down. The other starting safety, Patrick Chung, went down in the game. So did Sterling Moore late in the game. So you're thin back there, and your depth needs to be coached up. Injuries happen. They are a part of football, so players like Tavon Wilson and Nate Ebner may be asked to be contributors, and they have to be ready to go. It's such a drop-off, especially in the defensive secondary, when they get shuffled and there is a corner down or someone else has to play in different positions. When they aren't consistent and don't have continuity, it is obvious the problems they've had. At the safety position last Sunday, the Seahawks were just feasting on it, and receivers were wide open in the deep part of the field.
Mike: I think a big part of the frustrations some followers have is that this isn't a new problem. We've been talking about it for a while now. Since 2007, the Patriots have used two first-round draft choices and four second-round draft choices on players in the secondary. They also signed cornerback Leigh Bodden to a four-year, $22 million contract, and that didn't pan out. With all that investment, the group should be better, and the question many are asking is, "Why isn't it?"
Tedy: One player that I think you have to look at is Ras-I Dowling. They drafted him in the second round last year, and the idea was that if you had him and Devin McCourty as bookends at cornerback, you could do so much with the other players. Unfortunately, it looks like the coaches aren't very high on him because he's not getting playing time. In the limited time he has been on the field, he hasn't made any plays that show Patriots fans he's ready to step up and be a difference-maker. There is still time, but you expected more of an immediate result. It's time for him to get going.
Mike: The coaching staff has come under fire because of the performance of the secondary, and some of the consistent technique struggles we're seen.
Tedy: Coach Belichick has had a lot of success here, even as many coaches left for other opportunities. And a big part of that is who Coach Belichick is. Not only is he good at coaching his players, he's good at coaching his coaches and ensuring they have the same type of philosophies and coach players in the same type of ways. So Coach Belichick has his fingers on everything. He coaches all the way down to the special teams. So Coach Belichick coaches these coaches on how to coach these players, and it's always been consistent on the message that players receive. I know what they're being told, and it's up to the players to implement it in the game. These coaches do a great job because they're being coached by Coach Belichick. The players have to take accountability.
Mike: Simply put, is there hope for improvement?
Tedy: I have seen some of the best secondaries in the league get beat, and beaten soundly. The league's No. 1 defense, the Houston Texans, have a solid unit, but Aaron Rodgers sliced and diced them up. It happens to everyone. These receivers get paid too. Techniques can be fixed. You have to be patient with these guys. There is still hope. These guys can still make plays.
Mike: You've made the point that part of Bill Belichick's coaching philosophy is to keep gathering information on his personnel, and he's always piecing it all together for when it truly counts.
Tedy: The building of a team doesn't stop when the regular season begins. You don't have free agency, the draft, then minicamps, OTAs, training camp and all that process, and that's it. Coach Belichick and the staff uses the regular season to continue to build and develop their players up through Thanksgiving. They still want to evaluate and see what they have. They still have to find out the combinations. Coach Belichick would always talk to us in the locker room about playing your best football after Thanksgiving. That's when I think he finally knows what he has.
Mike: When we get deeper into this Patriots versus Jets matchup, there are a lot of places we could start.
Tedy: I think we start with a mentality. It's easy to get caught up come "Jet Week" because you know the hate you have for that team and the hate the other team has for you. It's the rivalry and the trash talk that's going on. Rex Ryan comes out with his bold statements. From a Patriots perspective, you don't want to get caught up in that. A good example from last week was the 49ers-Giants game. The 49ers got caught up in the revenge thing, about righting the colossal wrong from last year. They didn't focus on what was important. That's what the Patriots can't do this week. And if I know the coaches in there, this is one of those weeks where they're told about the media. Some weeks Belichick will say things like, "I don't want to hear any comments about their team. All I want to hear about, through the media, is how we have to win the game." He gives those messages sometimes when his instincts tell him this could be a problem this week. First and foremost, the Patriots have to win that aspect this week.
Mike: I've seen a few Jets games this year, and one thing that stands out to me is how limited they are offensively. Quarterback Mark Sanchez is now in his fourth season, and I don't see the growth that I'd imagine the Jets were hoping for. Sanchez has completed just 49.7 percent of his passes this season, and the offense seems very basic and predictable at times. What are you seeing from your film study?
Tedy: I see a lot of faces. There isn't one consistent face. Even though Mark Sanchez has been their starting quarterback four years, he's still not the man there. That's why they brought in Tim Tebow, to be a complementary aspect to that offense. When Sanchez is in there, the run game is handing it off to Shonn Greene. The power run game is going to be there. As a cornerback, you really just have to defend the simple throws -- those in between the numbers. Sanchez really loves to run the slant, the tight end over the middle. He isn't a Joe Flacco type of accurate guy -- outside the numbers and deep. You saw him a couple weeks ago when Antonio Cromartie, playing receiver on "Monday Night Football" against the Texans, was wide open streaking down the field and Sanchez couldn't hit him. He's better compressed inside those numbers, those kind of high-percentage throws. That's what you have to defend -- deny him those throws and make him make the tough ones. And then here comes Tebow -- you may have to deal with him.
Mike: Tebow is a factor on special teams as much as offense. He is 2 of 3 passing for 32 yards and has totaled 18 rushes for 64 yards on the season.
Tedy: I would use him more, on a consecutive basis, and give him an entire drive, especially early in the first half or second half, just to see how opponents will adjust. Maybe they can't handle it and they will have success, and you can roll with that as the game progresses. You want to see how a team would react to his type of spread offense, being that fullback/quarterback/running back from the quarterback position. I think utilizing him more would help them out, because sometimes it's tough to defend. It takes up a lot of practice time during the week. For the Patriots, you have to prepare for it all -- when Sanchez is in there and when Tebow is in there.
Mike: They're without Santonio Holmes because of injury and, as you've mentioned, he is one of the best catch-and-run players in the league. But take him out of the equation and it highlights how this offense is one that doesn't strike too much fear in the opposition. Then again, the Patriots' defense has shown its own vulnerabilities.
Tedy: The big thing with the Patriots now is to attack them down the field, but in this case, who do you attack them with? You have an inaccurate deep-ball thrower in Sanchez, and you have to ask yourself if he's going to be able to make those throws. They will take their shots down the field. Tebow took one against the Texans, and it was just off the receiver's fingertips. So it's in their offense, and in their scheme, to take their shots off play-action. It may come down to whoever is healthy at safety, and also at cornerback, making a play on the ball. One thing to mention is maybe having Devin McCourty going back to safety, with the idea that your last line of defense needs to be your best line of defense.
Mike: When you mention taking shots, we shouldn't overlook receiver Stephen Hill, the 2012 second-round draft choice. He runs well. Meanwhile, one area that comes to mind about the Jets' defense is how their scheme and disguise makes for a long week of preparation for Tom Brady.
Tedy: Protection is going to be key. The Jets figure to look for their spots to attack Tom Brady. You always want to get him moving, so is it up-the-middle pressure? Overload pressure to a side? This is something Rex Ryan does extensively, and you just don't know what you're going to get. He can dial up about 25 different blitzes in a game plan. Tom Brady needs to really be on his toes and get good pre-snap keys offensively.
Mike: The Jets are without injured cornerback Darrelle Revis. How have you noticed this has affected them? I was surprised to see their third-down defense ranked No. 30 in the NFL.
Tedy: He's one of the top five defensive players in all of football, if you ask me. When you lose a player like that, you're going to struggle. You're just not going to be as good. These guys aren't the same without Revis, but Antonio Cromartie still has that big-play ability. He made a couple big plays versus the Colts; he had two pick-sixes called back. He still makes plays, still has great ball skills. Instead of staying away from Revis and then attacking Cromartie and the other corners, now it's a step lower, and Cromartie is their No. 1 corner and you search the matchups across the line of scrimmage with other players.
Mike: When you look at the Patriots offense in this matchup, could we be seeing a return to a more balanced approach after a loss in Seattle in which they had 59 dropbacks and 26 rushes?
Tedy: I do. I also see the hurry-up returning, because against a defense that has multiple substitutions, multiple looks and multiple calls, which take a little time to get communicated, that pace is a good counter. You also counter it with the running game and you wear them down and get them tired, like the Patriots did to the Broncos.
Tedy: And Coples is showing up a little bit more of late. Last week against the Colts, he had two sacks. He's trying to find his way. He's big, strong, quick and athletic, and he can really cause problems for an outmatched offensive lineman. He's starting to come into his own a little bit. Keep an eye on him.
Mike: I think it's important we also keep our eyes on special teams. The Jets have touchdowns on a kickoff return and punt return this season and have faked three punts. I'm expecting fireworks in that area, although the Jets are likely to be without injured kickoff returner Joe McKnight.
Tedy: The Jets are a true complementary football team that really relies on its coverage teams to win the field-position battle. This team plays best when the offense is running the ball and taking care of it and Sanchez isn't making mistakes and Tebow comes in and provides a little confusion. Then the defense gets turnovers to give the offense extra possessions. And then special teams making big plays. With Tebow back there, who knows what they'll dial up.
Mike: OK Tedy, let's get to our predictions. The Patriots are better than they showed last Sunday in Seattle. The concerns in the secondary are real, but I don't see the Jets being able to exploit them. I expect a better performance from the Patriots, as they are the superior team. Tom Brady has a big day. Patriots 31, Jets 17.
Tedy: The Jets' strength is running the ball, and the strength of the Patriots' defense is in their front seven. The iron triangle of Wilfork, Spikes and Mayo should put a stop to the ground and pound. And when they start to rely on Mark Sanchez to win the game, I see a pick-six coming from a member of the Patriots defense to cement the blowout win. This Jets defense will be overwhelmed with the tempo and power of the Patriots offense and running game. Patriots 41, Jets 20.