Join my chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q&A.
Q. Did you notice how in the second half Sunday between the Patriots and Packers, Logan Ryan was no longer assigned to cover Davante Adams? In the first half, that looked like the sleeper matchup that Aaron Rodgers was going to go to all game long. Was that maybe a move that helped keep Green Bay within reach? -- Jason (Germany)
A. I'll tell you, Logan Ryan was hanging in there early, in good position. When a quarterback like Rodgers has his eye on you for most of the day, it's going to be a hard assignment. I thought the Patriots did a great job of taking away the top two weapons of the Packers' offense (I know Jordy Nelson made a big play, and you give him credit). When you go against a team like this, the battle of your third and fourth defensive backs against the third and fourth options in the passing game is where the game will be won or lost. I did think Patrick Chung played a good game in terms of supporting the run. As for Ryan and Kyle Arrington, you're scrambling to find the right fit there when a quarterback like Rodgers is targeting that spot.
This was intellectual football on both sides. You could see the adjustments Mike McCarthy made. In the first half, one of them was coming out in "01" personnel (no backs, one tight end). You see one of your main weapons, receiver Randall Cobb, getting handled at the line of scrimmage. So let's take our running back off the field and put Cobb in the backfield. So now it's Kyle Arrington on Cobb out of the backfield.
They're also using bunch formations to create traffic problems. I'm shaking my head rewatching the film, as there are brilliant adjustments on each side of the ball.
The wheel route to Cobb, when Rob Ninkovich was on him, I don't think Ninkovich had him man-to-man. I just think he's doing what he's taught -- to peel off when that threat is presented to him. If you watch, Arrington has Cobb in man coverage from the LB level, and he's aligned at the LB level because Cobb is in the backfield, and that's where he should be aligned. Arrington gets caught up in a traffic situation from the bunch and he can't make it through to get his coverage. Ninkovich is doing the best he can to hold him off. But come on -- Ninkovich running with Cobb? There you have McCarthy telling Bill Belichick, "I have a bag of tricks, too."
Q. What do you think about our first seed in the AFC? Can the Patriots keep the first seed until the end of regular season? -- Stephen (Budapest, Hungary)
A. They have a tough one this week. This is a scrappy San Diego team. The Chargers are riding high, too, after a win against Baltimore on the road. Nothing brings a team together more than a hard-fought road win. I still see multiple challenges ahead for the Patriots: San Diego, Miami and the Bills have good defenses. Usually when you're playing the Dolphins and Bills at the end of the season, half of their U-Hauls are already packed. But both teams currently have a lot to play for. These are new mentalities for these teams this late in the season. Usually this is when the Patriots collect their AFC East championship hats and T-shirts. This may be a bold statement here, but the division is still in question.
Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of confidence in the Patriots and their situation. But this is just the Belichick coming out in me.
Q. Tedy, do you agree with the play calling last night by the Patriots' offense? It seemed like more often than not, I was scratching my head at why the Pats ran certain plays, why they didn't give the ball to LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray more often, etc. Your thoughts? -- Mark (Massachusetts)
A. Yes, especially when you have a team that has an obvious weakness in stopping the run, and the Patriots have been brilliant in attacking weaknesses of the other team. I also thought there was more pressure on Brady yesterday because of the play calling. The play calls required more protection in the pocket for Tom. What has made the offensive line look good this season has been the running game and the rhythm of the quick passing game. They had elements of the quick passing game Sunday, with some success with Julian Edelman, but it seemed like their goal was to go more down the field. That meant the line had to protect longer.
Q. Followed the game Sunday here from Europe (another short night for me), and to be honest, I'm not too disappointed. The Patriots did not have their best game by any means (I saw a lot of room for improvement on offense and defense) and still they managed to stay in the game until the very end. The only downside for me was that the Packers managed to decide this game with their No. 3 receiver (Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard were beaten several times). I thought our defensive back depth was better than their wide receiver depth, but I may have to reconsider that. What are your thoughts on this? -- Michael (Vienna)
A. This may be the story as the year unfolds, Michael. That's what the Patriots are coming to be known as throughout the league with this quality high-end secondary. I say "high end" when looking at the personnel: Darrelle Revis, Brandon Browner, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Kyle Arrington, Alfonzo Dennard and Logan Ryan. Now look past those first few spots, and start to look at the middle/end of that list of names. Based on Sunday, those are the players who will have a big say if this team makes a strong playoff push.
Q. Tedy, how can the Patriots stop a scrambling quarterback? They have had a problem defending these new-school quarterbacks who can run and throw (e.g. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, and now, Rodgers). You crash the pocket hard and these guys break out fast, you stay on your lane and they have all day to throw. What's an effective way to defend? -- Jeff (Hong Kong)
A. First of all, you can't put Aaron Rodgers in the same sentence as Wilson, Kaepernick and Newton. Rodgers is head and shoulders better than all of them. What you saw Sunday was a rare talent. Sometimes you have to pick your poison in what you decide to take away from an offensive weapon. Obviously, the plan was to take away Nelson and Cobb and force Rodgers to go to his third and fourth options. But there's also the fifth option, which is Rodgers' ability to scramble. It's a very tough assignment for even the best defenses in the NFL.
Q. Mr. Bruschi, big fan from Brazil. Do you think the loss against the Packers might benefit the team in the long term? I think it shows there is lot of work to be done. It also may give a better look in a possible showdown against the same Packers in the Super Bowl. We really missed Chandler Jones, and the penalties also hurt us. -- Paulo (Brazil)
A. Paulo, I know where you are coming from -- the idea it might get them refocused. But this was a big loss. You could tell by the way Tom Brady was after the game. You spend the whole year trying to put teams behind you in your division. Then for playoff seeding and the No. 1 overall seed. With this loss, all the teams behind you are creeping back up to be in the same situation.
Q. Hi Tedy, defensively (from a scheme point of view) what could the Pats have done differently/better to get to Rodgers on Sunday? It appeared to me that Rodgers had all day to throw the ball. -- Jason (Boston)
A. Jason, that was one of the obvious problems -- the time Rodgers had. I know some people might say, "How can you give Rodgers 12 seconds to throw the ball?" That's what they were saying on TV. There will probably be clocks on "SportsCenter" this week timing the rush, but I thought the combination of how they attacked Rodgers was brilliant. Matt Patricia used four-man rushes, three-man rushes and different types of three-man rushes. One example (second quarter, 6:36) came when they started out with a four-man rush look, but on the snap, both edge rushers (Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers) look to reroute the receivers or help on the slants. So essentially that turns into a two-man rush. But then Dont'a Hightower, from his inside linebacker position, power rushes up the middle to beat the confused interior of the offensive line, as the defensive tackles that are left use an outside rush to solidify contain. I've played in this defense for a while and I don't remember that type of three-man rush. This has Patricia written all over it. This creativity fires me up. So you got the slant taken care of, you have extra help in coverage, and you have unexpected pressure by the three-man rush. This is good stuff!
Q. Tedy, I brought this up to you a couple weeks ago. I thought the lack of a pass rush would hurt the Patriots. I thought that was what cost them the game. Your thoughts? -- John (Salem, Massachusetts)
A. This relates to the last question. So having addressed all the combinations of 3-man rush and 4-man rush, what eventually happens is that you have to win 1-on-1 in the pass rush. That's what the Patriots could have had more of.
Q. What happened to the offensive line in this game? -- Benji (Boston)
A. I think there was a little too much asked of them. They were asked to pass-protect a little longer than they have in the last few weeks. The quick passing game had been a bigger aspect of the game-plan the past few weeks. The Patriots also believe they can't do the same thing each week because they don't want opponents to know what's coming. So they'll throw a curveball. They'll say, "We have to have this part of the game to be successful." In this game, it was the intermediate to deep passing game. But once again, there were situations where the offensive line couldn't hold up long enough. If Clay Matthews wasn't getting pressure, he was a fingertip away from a strip sack. Late blitzers were getting pressure on Brady. I think it comes down to knowing what you have on the offensive line: Let those guys win the line of scrimmage running the ball, and if it has to be a quick passing game, that's what it has to be.