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Run defense a top concern

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

Q. Tedy, the Patriots' run defense looked terrible Thursday. I want to chalk this up to the short week and no time to prepare for life without Jerod Mayo, but I can't ignore the fact that the Dolphins ran like this against us in week one, and so did the Chiefs. Is this going to be a season-long problem for our beloved Patriots? -- Brendan (Kingston, Massachusetts)

A. I just think this is the way it's going to be. They aren't going to be the strongest team against the run based on who they have on the roster and some of the injuries they've experienced. Also, the release of DT Tommy Kelly. But two things this defense does well is play well against the pass and take the ball away. If those are your strengths and you continue to play that way, that's what it's going to be.

Q. Tedy, how do we correct the awful run defense? Note that the problems began before Jerod Mayo's injury. -- Glen (via mobile)

A. The problems will only get larger with the loss of Mayo. Now you have players that need to get used to being in different positions and alignments. Dont'a Hightower has more responsibility now, calling the defense. That requires more of Jamie Collins, too, who has to help. Then you bring in young guys like Deontae Skinner and need to make sure he's on the same page. I know they were giving up yards before, but without Mayo, I think this is a problem you'll probably keep seeing this year.

Q. Tedy, is it just me or does it seem that the defense is built to hold up against the pass better than anything else? Seems they struggle any time the opposing quarterback runs often: Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill. -- Mike (Seekonk, Massachusetts)

A. The quarterback scramble is something you don't account for sometimes. The one way to account for it is to assign a spy to watch the quarterback, and if he scrambles out, you chase. But that takes one player away from your rush or coverage schemes. You like to coach rush-lane responsibility in terms of pressuring the quarterback. When you have an athlete like a Geno Smith, Ryan Tannehill or Alex Smith, it can be frustrating for a defense when you think you have good coverage and win with the initial structure of the play, but the quarterback still scrambles and gets the first down with his legs.

Q. Tedy, the Patriots spent almost the entire game against the Jets with only two linebackers on the field -- even when it was obvious that the Jets were having some success running the football. Do you think the lack of adjustment was because of available personnel, or because the Patriots were content to let the Jets move the ball down the field for three points at a time? Did Bill Belichick just come up with a new strategy of allowing the other team to run out the clock for the Patriots? -- Pat (Kennett Square, Pennsylvania)

A. There were only two linebackers on the field, and Patrick Chung dropped into the box to play a linebacker-type role. You recognize that Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia are doing everything they possibly can to compensate for their lack of linebacker depth. It's all based on personnel there, Pat.

Q. Tedy, interesting take on the Mike Reiss article regarding the Patriots being tired against the Jets. I find it fitting to ask you about the task of playing two NFL games in four days. -- Mo (Houston)

A. Reiss is right. It's extremely difficult for that quick turnaround, especially defensively when depth isn't your strength. The good thing about it is the 10 days of rest after it. I don't think they'll come out looking tired against the Bears.

Q. Good morning, Tedy. With this Bears team struggling with an identity crisis of its own, I'm cautiously optimistic that this game could be the perfect springboard for our Patriots to re-establish some momentum/confidence after a hard-fought but sloppy win against the Jets. What are some keys that you are looking for to get this done? I'd like to see some renewed commitment to the run (Jonas Gray?) to set up play-action. Thanks, 54! -- John (Watertown)

A. I wouldn't describe this as a springboard or a get-right game. On the Bears, they're having some problems in the locker room right now, with people talking today about Brandon Marshall yelling at his team. That can serve as a wake-up call and spark a better performance next week. We'll get into this in our breakdown later in the week, but the first thing is deciding which player to put Darrelle Revis on: Marshall or Alshon Jeffery.

Q. Hi Tedy, the Patriots in the coming weeks will face some stiff competition and some very potent offenses (GB, IND, DEN). It's my feeling that the secondary should be able to hold its own but becomes more susceptible to breaking down when teams start running on them. Is this a fair assessment, and if so, is improvement in the run defense from the front seven something we can hope to see with the extra rest and time to work out the communication issues? -- Nick (Montreal)

A. I think when you face certain teams, like Green Bay, Indianapolis and Denver, I remember being told in meetings, "We'd rather be beaten by the run than the arm of Peyton Manning, etc." Bill Belichick used to say something like -- and I'll put it in terms of this year's Denver team -- "Every run by Ronnie Hillman is one less pass by Peyton Manning." Sometimes as a defense, you take it that way.

Q. Hi Tedy, how you doing, mate? After watching Sunday's Broncos game against the 49ers, I feel like the road to this year's Super Bowl goes through Mile High, and also it makes me nervous to think whether we have enough talent to overcome the Broncos this year in the playoffs if that's the case. -- Sam (Brisbane, Australia)

A. I think the scary thing about the Broncos is not so much about Peyton Manning (Belichick usually draws up a good game plan against him), it's about the defense playing so much better. They have quality cover men in the defensive backfield. Aqib Talib is playing well. Chris Harris Jr. is a good player as well. And Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware are starting to get warmed up.

Q. Hey Tedy, Denver's win last night was impressive complementary football. I know the Patriots beat the Bengals in a similar fashion, but in my opinion, the Broncos play that way more consistently. We're almost halfway through the season. Can the Patriots play at a level similar to the Broncos' level? They have the Bears first and then my question will be answered, but I'm wondering what your feelings are on the team at this point and where you see them trending as they go through the toughest portion of their schedule. -- Tron

A. Yes, Denver looked very impressive last night. Their offense is explosive. I want you to remember one thing about these historically high-powered offenses -- Patriots '07, Rams '01, and Broncos this year and last year: Eventually by the end of the year things start to slow down. Especially come playoff time. I see the Broncos as a prolific throwing attack. The Patriots are different. I think they're more dirty, if you will. They'll grind it out more than the Broncos will. The Broncos almost run the ball because they have to, not because they want to. It's not about the Patriots playing at a similar level of the Broncos, it's about them improving their own style. I see the Patriots trending up right now -- they are developing their style and figuring out who they are -- and you always want to improve as the year goes on. I see that over the last few weeks. Once again, it's very realistic that they lose two or three of these next games, but still realistic they will still be AFC East champion and that will be the goal.

Q. Hi Tedy! What can we realistically expect from Jonas Gray during the second half of the season? -- Ashley (Boston)

A. Realistically, right now, the jury is still out on Gray. He has three career carries, which just came last week. It's an unproven commodity. Let's see a little more from him before we raise those expectations.

Q. Everyone loves to dream, but any realistic trade opportunities for the Pats? -- Jeff (via mobile)

A. The one thing Bill Belichick is, is unpredictable. I wouldn't put it past him to trade for a big-name player or a role player. There are a lot of need-areas that could be targeted. You could go out and get a big receiver, but what's the price? Offensive line, linebacker ... There are also some names out there on the street who are possibilities, like linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

Q. Rumor has it Tampa is willing to let Vincent Jackson go for a third-round draft pick. The Patriots have the cap space to absorb his contract for this year then renegotiate for next. Should the Pats make a move for him? If not, do you think the Patriots snag a trade for another area? -- EJ (Hollywood Pats fan)

A. Let's remember that the Patriots already have a receiver who is getting paid a lot and not having the type of production he's supposed to be having. And finally, Danny Amendola makes a play to help you win a game. Maybe you want to cultivate that instead of looking elsewhere. Brandon LaFell looks like he's emerging ... Julian Edelman will be there ... and if Amendola starts to show up more, that could be three good receivers. And you have Rob Gronkowski starting to look like his old self. So...

Q. Who is the Pats' biggest challenger in the division right now, the Bills or Dolphins? -- Conor M. (Ireland)

A. The biggest challenger for the Patriots is themselves.

Q. Hey Tedy. Do you think Tom Brady will ever pass Brett Favre's touchdown mark? What about Peyton Manning's mark? -- Miguel (Houston)

A. To get Favre, it's possible. But to get Peyton, it's going to be difficult because it looks like he has a few more years left in him.

Q. What do you think the likelihood is that the Pats go out and get a linebacker and or running back via trade? Would love to see LeGarrette Blount back in a Pats uniform, since he isn't being used much in Pittsburgh. -- Todd (Washington, D.C.)

A. I think them getting a LB is possible, whether via a trade or off the street. The depth at LB is scary with the loss of Mayo.

Q. Last week's win was the 223rd of Bill Belichick's career. That moves him one ahead of Paul Brown on the all-time list. While nobody in the media has mentioned this, do you think Belichick was aware, and if so, how do you think he would feel about this accomplishment? -- Steve (Los Angeles)

A. I think Bill is aware of everything. Football history is always on his mind, also. I didn't know that he was passing Paul Brown with that victory. I know Paul Brown is someone he admires.

Q. Hi TB (is TB reserved for Brady?). How do you feel about Patrick Chung this year? Came in vet min salary, played a ton of snaps, has FOUR tackles for a loss. I didn't see him making the 53 ... what changed? Same defensive back coaches? -- Chris (Springfield, Massachusetts)

A. I think with Chung, you just see the variety of things they have him do. He struggles at times, I understand. In coverage, sometimes he has the tough matchups because he's the safety who has to come down and play the run but at the same time cover very athletic tight ends. He's one of the players they're asking a lot from.

Q. Tedy, I think it's safe to say the schedule gets a lot tougher from here. Are we in for a roller coaster down the back half of the schedule? -- Avi (Brookyn, New York)

A. Yes, Avi, I think we are. What's everyone's realistic expectation of what the record will be after these next six games? They could realistically go 3-3. It's possible they could go 4-2. The important thing is this: Do you think the Dolphins, Bills or Jets will make a strong run to win the division? I don't think so. They pretty much have to play the same teams. The AFC East plays the NFC North, and I think the Patriots will fare better against the North than the Dolphins, Bills or Jets will. Right now I'm thinking big picture. I'm not thinking No. 1 seed or bye. I'm thinking division because the division gets you in. As long as they show steady improvement to winning that division title, I think that's what you want from this team going into postseason possibilities.