Join my chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.
Q. Happy New Year Tedy. It seems like a lot of fans, analysts and reporters are going crazy with the whole "Patriots don't want to see the Ravens" headline. I think that's crazy -- the players don't care who it is. When you get this far (as you know), you only play good teams. Having said that, I don't believe this Ravens team is as good as advertised. I think 2009 was somewhat of a down year for New England. -- Zach, (Providence, Rhode Island)
A. I agree with you, Zach. The players aren't buying into any of this stuff with them not wanting to see the Ravens. You're right about everyone being good at this point. I could actually see Bill Belichick using some of this media attention that the Ravens are a tough draw for the Patriots and turning it into motivation somehow. But ... I think you're wrong in the sense that this Ravens team isn't as good as advertised. It will be a hard-fought game. At the same time, I don't think any player in the locker room is by any means scared of this team.
Q. Hi Tedy, thanks for all your great work as the heart of the Patriots' dynasty and as an analyst these days. Do you see the Ravens' front generating constant pressure on Brady to give him the same kind of problems the Jets, Seahawks, even Miami have given him in the past? Do you see this game as a potential one-and-done for the Patriots? Thanks again and keep up the excellent work. Happy new year. -- Jaime (Guayaquil, Ecuador)
A. First of all, Jaime, this isn't a guaranteed win at all. You have to say it is a potential one-and-done. There is a possibility the Patriots can lose this game. There are certain variables you just can't predict. That's turnovers and penalties, just like you saw this past weekend in the wild-card round. Yes, the pressure will be one of the main concerns for the Patriots' offense. It's an attack from the outside with Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, with Haloti Ngata pushing the pocket -- and the Patriots' OTs have struggled at times protecting, while we're well aware of the interior problems they've had. This will be a very tough game for New England.
Q. Steve Smith and Brandon Browner are two of the most physical, aggressive, and fiery players in the league at their position. If they're matched up Saturday, how long before they're engaged in an all-out brawl along the sideline? -- Sean (Boston)
A. LOL. I'm sure there will be times when Browner is matched up against Steve Smith. Even when Smith is matched up against Darrelle Revis, he's going to come out swinging. Literally. You remember the battle he had with Aqib Talib last season. I remember playing against Steve Smith in the Super Bowl. Even back then, when he was younger and faster, he still had the same mentality. This guy is a beast. Steve Smith, Hines Ward, Anquan Bolden, Golden Tate -- I put those players in that category of "you have to respect them."
Q. Hey Bru! How do you think our defense matches up against Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense? -- Matt (Connecticut)
A. I think this is going to be a big test for the Patriots' front in terms of stopping the run. This is a team that is committed to running the football. It has one of the best offensive lines in the league in terms of getting movement along the line of scrimmage. The stat I'm pointing to: In the regular season, they were second in the NFL in terms of yards before contact. So running back Justin Forsett is getting a clean entry into the line of scrimmage. An interesting thing to note is that in yards after contact per rush, the Ravens are No. 28. What that means is Forsett is getting through the holes well, but he's an easier tackle. I shouldn't say easy tackle, but let's just say he's not Marshawn Lynch (the Seahawks are No. 1 in yards after contact per rush).
Q. So Mr. Bruschi, what is the best way for the Pats to attack the Ravens both offensively and defensively? -- Britt (Texas)
A. First of all, you have to be ready for a fistfight. I say that because this is a battle-hardened team that isn't intimidated by the three championship banners in the stadium. There are some teams, going into wild-card weekend, I knew if they came into New England it was going to be a cakewalk because of their inexperience. There are some teams that get caught up in the Bill Belichick/Patriots plans and they're not ready to play football (e.g. Texans from a few years back). This team has none of that. It's going to be a four-quarter game. Offensively, Rob Gronkowski is going to be huge. You have to be able to run and use Gronkowski off play-action. If you don't establish the run game, and allow Dumervil and Suggs to rush -- coupled with Ngata pushing the pocket inside -- Brady is going to have a long day. You need hidden rushing yardage. It's with screen passes, quick passes, plays that keep the defensive pass rush off balance. On defense, we talked about stopping the run. Anything else, look for our breakdown later in the week.
Q. Tedy, this is the last team I wanted to face. In the playoffs, a team has to beat the best to be the best. But, I can't help but feel the Patriots drew the black bean in facing the Ravens. How do you think this Patriots team is better equipped to beat the Ravens this year compared with years past? -- Landan (Dallas, Texas)
A. I'll tell you one thing, Landon. This is the game where I feel Jerod Mayo's presence will be most missed. I think the Ravens are going to come out and make the Patriots play regular defense. That means taking a talented secondary player off the field with more base offensive formations, and the Patriots will match that with their regular 4-3 defense. So this is going to be an expanded role for Jonathan Casillas as a third linebacker or Alan Branch as the fifth defensive lineman, depending on what package they call on. This isn't a team that spreads you out like Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. etc.
Q. Bru, I look back at the season for the Ravens and I don't see any real decisive victories. One writer made the comment that they looked better than they might be against the Steelers because it was a rivalry/divisional game, similar to how the 4-win Jets played us down to the final minute each game this season. They have always played us hard and their strength in pass rush matches favorably toward our offensive line. Do you think this is going to be a tough matchup for the Pats or are the Patriots strong enough to overcome this strength vs. weakness matchup? -- Kasey (Hopkinton, Massachusetts)
A. First of all, don't look back at any playoff team's schedule and who they've beaten and who they've lost to. It's how they're playing right now. But I'll give you a tip: The best way to look back is not for results but more for game-plan strategy. For example, this week I'm looking back at how Dean Pees, the Ravens' defensive coordinator, game-planned against exceptional tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates. Anyone who looks at the regular season at this point in the playoffs, and judges a team based on past victories, such as one in October, is mistaken. I have a question for you: Would you judge the Patriots based on their loss to Kansas City on Sept. 29?
Q. Can the Ravens' pass rush be as effective as they did with Steelers against Pats? -- sandeep (Columbia, Maryland)
A. If Josh McDaniels tries to execute five- and seven-step drops, absolutely, the Ravens can have that type of success. You have to try to keep this pass rush off balance as best you can. I think Gronkowski's impact could be diminished if they decide to use him more in protection. I've seen Gronkowski chip as he releases from the line and gets into his route. That might be required again this week if the tackles struggle.
Q. Darrelle Revis will shut down Steve Smith, Kyle Arrington on Owen Daniels, Brandon Browner on Torrey Smith with some help from Devin McCourty. Do this and it frees up Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower to be beast, am I correct? Is this how they attack the Ravens on defense? -- Jay (Raynham, Massachusetts)
A. If it gets to a passing situation, yes, I can see various combinations. So what if the Ravens are able to successfully run the football, Jay, and a bunch of their passing game is off play-action? Now you're talking different combinations within the second level of an offensive play. One little note on Owen Daniels: He's the biggest con man in the league. I've said this about him for years. He'll hide out, make you think he's blocking, and he's sneaky in his routes. Very savvy. That's the definition of a con man in football -- makes you think he's doing one thing, and all of a sudden he's out the back door with the football and your wallet!
Q. Hi Tedy. Well it's what you were fearing -- those pesky Ravens are back. Do you think that the play of our offensive line will decide this game? -- Jamie (Plympton, England)
A. Hi Jamie. Thanks for participating from England. The play of everyone will decide this game. That's my easy answer. Every unit has to step up; this is the divisional round of the playoffs. But what I was thinking about this morning is this: The way they prepared last week and this week is what will win them the game. The Patriots haven't played outstanding football in a few weeks now. They laid an egg against the Bills, then had a bye week, so I think it's critical how Bill Belichick has handled his team last week and this week. I know there are certain rules that regulate practices and contact in practice. But if there was any time for full pads, you have to be thinking about it this week with the challenge coming in to Gillette Stadium. The last thing you want is to come out flat, because you didn't play well against Buffalo and if you didn't have good practices last week, and didn't work hard this week. What I'm trying to say is that it's a test for the coaching staff on how sharp they've kept the team entering this game.
Q. Tedy, would love your take on two things: 1) The O Line has to play well and the offensive game plan has to be creative in terms of where to attack the Ravens and with a wide variance of tempo. 2) Stop the run on D, put Steve Smith on Revis Island, Arrington with lots of help on Torrey Smith over the top from McCourty, and Browner on Daniels (unless Arrington can cover Daniels, then use Browner to pound T. Smith at the line to help inhibit his ability to get free deep). -- Scott (Charlotte, North Carolina)
A. You have a lot of good points here, Scott. One thing I want to address is tempo. Sometimes in that hurry-up tempo, the Patriots will use one word, or a series of short phrases, to get their offense lined up quickly to keep the defense off balance. The Baltimore Ravens know how to deal with this tempo. I've been coached by Bill Belichick in dealing with this tempo, and a coach that helped me in that area was Dean Pees, now the Ravens' defensive coordinator. So this Ravens defense will be ready for that. They will have their own short phrases or single words that can line up an entire defense. Ever since training camp, playing defense against good tempo is covered by good coaches -- like Belichick, Pees, Patricia. For example, the color white. If you hear that, it's a primary color, and primary colors can mean even fronts. The color white can mean man or zone based on how you want to interpret it. So if a linebacker communicates "white" to a front, it can easily mean "even front, man coverage in the back." So instead of having to say "even! even!" to the front, you have one color and everyone knows what they are doing. Another key thing is this: When you know they're in hurry-up, you don't match in coverage; you play sides, left and right. These nuances are things Dean Pees knows. I remember hurry-up run plays against Baltimore that were stopped in past matchups. What I'm saying is that they will be ready for tempo.
Q. Tedy, talk me down off of my high horse if you feel the need, but I'm just not that afraid of the Ravens. I know they have been difficult in the past, but this Pats squad looks to be too formidable all the way around for the Ravens to take down. If we play the way we are capable, there is NO reason they should beat us, right? Love what you do and what you meant to our team. Thanks. -- Ben (Tulsa)
A. So having said so many good things about the Ravens in this chat, I agree with you also. This is a defensive secondary that has been beat up all year. If the Patriots keep that rush off balance, Tom Brady can have a big day. I do not see anyone on the Ravens who can handle Rob Gronkowski down the field. This Patriots defense can more than match up against the Ravens if they are successful stopping the run.
So as much as I feel like the Ravens are a difficult challenge for the Patriots, let's still remember this is the No. 1 seed in the AFC for a reason.
Q. Hi Tedy, huge fan and think the insight you bring to these chats is invaluable. As a former defensive captain, where would you think the "weak link" is in the upcoming Baltimore defense that the Patriots could exploit? -- Justin (Pittsfield, Massachusetts)
A. I think the weakness is the secondary. I'm not saying Julian Edelman is Antonio Brown, but Edelman can do similar things. Edelman is quick, fast, physical and he's a very instinctive football player. He could have a big day.
Q. The Patriots seem to be ready to take it all the way. Do you see that happening this year? If Tom wins the Super Bowl this year, do you think that puts him in the lead or conversation of best QB ever? -- Nick (New Jersey)
A. In my mind, Nick, he's already up there in terms of one of the best ever to play the game. But to win Super Bowls, three out of four like he did -- and go to two more after that and lose, and then get back and win it 10 years after winning the last one -- I'm not sure anyone has ever done that.