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New and improved D for real?

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

Q.
Hi Tedy, I'm becoming concerned about the mounting injuries. At some point, a team just can not continue to cover up for the losses of key players. I think this was part of the reason why the Pats couldn't pull away yesterday. No starting guards, no Gronk, no Edelman after he was hurt, and no pass rush absent Jones and Cunningham. Smoke and mirrors may not get us past the better teams. Thought? -- Glen (Minneapolis)

A.
OK, Glen, this is a cause for concern if the team isn't 100 percent going into the playoffs. But at this point of the year, as the end of the year comes, sometimes a team will hold a player back an extra week just to make sure he doesn't reinjure himself. The idea is that he'd be 100 percent for the remainder of the year once he does come back. The Patriots know how to monitor injuries, so as it becomes crunch time, it may be possible that you start to see the team getting back to full strength.

Q. Hi Tedy, I still believe the NFC is either Falcons or Giants, AFC is either Patriots or Steelers, what do you think? -- Tony (San Francisco)

A.
The Falcons do have the look of the best team in the NFC, but I still have my doubts on them. They still need to show they can perform in pressure situations in the playoffs. I see teams like the Packers and Giants with a glaring weakness, and that's the offensive line. When you come up against a team like the Giants or 49ers, who have a defensive front that can exploit that weakness, that can spell your end. The Patriots do have their problems along the offensive line also. If Logan Mankins eventually returns, that would help. But what a message the Steelers sent to the entire NFL, beating the Ravens without Ben Roethlisberger. I can relate to how proud the Steelers team must feel, because the week after Tom Brady went down in 2008, we went into the Meadowlands to play the Jets and still beat them. That was one of the most gratifying victories of my career.

Q. Tedy, if Texans DL J.J. Watt is going to swat at the ball, why don't linemen try to jab him in the stomach when he leaves his feet? Seems like he would be less willing to get both hands in the air. -- Sean (Boston)

A. That's what offensive linemen are coached to do, because when you extend your hands in the air, your ribcage is exposed. The Lions attempted to do that in the Thanksgiving game against J.J. Watt. They did get in his head a little bit. But Watt showed me a lot that game, because as frustrated as he was at times, he finished the game with two sacks in the fourth quarter.

Q.
Hi Tedy, I am very pleased by the recent progress of the Patriots secondary. Alfonzo Dennard seems very solid as a No. 2 outside guy, and Kyle Arrington looks much better in the slot. Do you think this is enough to make them a championship defense? -- Keith (Wakefield, R.I.)

A.
Keith, the defensive backfield is coming along, but I still see problems. In the first quarter of the Dolphins game, 5:38 left, once again it was a deep play-action pass to a wide-open wide receiver. Ryan Tannehill just happened to overthrow Brian Hartline, but Steve Gregory took the bait again. Let's hope he learns not to "take the cheese" in the future. That's an old saying we had in the locker room -- "don't take the cheese."

Q.
We have a problem on offense and it's a bad one. We don't have receiving weapons for Tom Brady. Rob Gronkowski is one of the top weapons in NFL history, and losing him is equivalent to losing Jerry Rice or Randy Moss in their primes. It's like losing 1 1/2 players. Add in an injured Julian Edelman, the continual downslide from Brandon Lloyd and the loss of Deion Branch and as far as I can tell we have Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead as reliable weapons in the passing game. We need somebody now! RIGHT NOW! Any thoughts? -- Bobby D. (Watertown, Mass.)

A.
Bobby D, the weapons are getting thin. If Edelman can't go, we're looking at majoring in Welker/Hernandez. In the fourth quarter Sunday, at 13:48, it was third-and-goal and Tom Brady was locked in on Wes Welker and the Dolphins had Welker bracketed. Defenses will now do everything to take away Welker, just like they did on that play. When Brady focuses on Welker and knows his other options are limited, he will need more time from his offensive line to find those other options. This is where the depleted offensive line can also be a factor. On this particular play, against the Dolphins, the line couldn't give Brady time to look to his other options and it resulted in a sack.

Q. Do you think the Texans are that good? Can they beat the Patriots? -- Jarrell (Houston)

A.
Yes, Jarrell, I think the Texans are very good. Can they beat the Patriots? You'll have to wait for my prediction in "Bruschi's Breakdown" on ESPN Boston on Thursday. Relax, Jarrell, it's only Monday. : )

Q.
Teddy, I feel that the defense has improved over the past few weeks. Do you think it has improved enough to be competitive in the playoffs matched up with the likes of Denver and/or the Ravens? -- Jim (Atlantic City, N.J.)

A. With Devin McCourty now solidified at free safety and Aqib Talib holding down one corner spot, Coach Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have less to worry about. This defense can be championship caliber.

Q. Hey Tedy. Tom Brady wasn't in top form in yesterday's game, but it seemed like the defense was able to step up, especially in the passing game. Do you think the defense has made some significant progress the past couple of weeks, or is this due to the Dolphins not being able to perform well in the passing game? -- Cole (Houghton, Mich.)

A.
Cole, the sign of a really great team is when you're still able to get victories when your quarterback isn't filling up the stat sheet. The Patriots have shown they can do it. The Falcons have won with Matt Ryan struggling. So there has been defensive progress. You have to have a positive outlook when they're playing this way without key contributors. For this defense to be playing its best, it needs a healthy Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham when he comes off suspension.

Q. Hey Tedy. Love the column. Listen, I'm smart. I'm a player in the NFL. Tough as nails, intuitive, but young and need guidance. I'm playing for the Patriots. I'm cool. Maybe I'm taking my talents and position for granted, but my worry wasn't the Dolphins this week. It's the Texans next week. You think anyone noticed that I already shifted my focus? Think anyone caught on to the fact that I was watching Texans video before the Miami game was even played? Couldn't that explain the lack of Patriot execution better than simply stating this was just another messy divisional game? -- Erick (Los Angeles)

A. Erick, first of all, if you played for the Patriots, you'd never be saying this publicly! But sure, the Patriots players knew who was coming into Gillette Stadium on Dec. 10. I think that's the sign of a good team -- you know what is on the horizon, but you're still able to handle your business.

Q.
Hi Tedy. Your thoughts on the decline of playing time for Patrick Chung? He seemed to be such an up-and-coming player a couple of years ago. Is it the injury bug, or did he simply not improve? Bad coaching? Your thoughts? -- Rick (home)

A.
Let's not totally close the door on Patrick Chung just yet. If Steve Gregory keeps biting on play-action like he did in the first quarter when Ryan Tannehill overthrew Brian Hartline, I think we'll see Chung back in there.

Q.
Hi Tedy. I traveled last weekend to Miami to attend the Pats-Fins game. I was surprised to see so many Pats supporters in the stadium (and everywhere in Miami). I could say 40 percent of the stadium was supporting the Pats. Does this give players a boost while on the road? Is this something unique to NE fans, or are other teams similar? What do you think about Pats fans (spoiled at home because winning is a given but loyal supporters on the road)? -- Nissim (Caracas, Venezuela)

A.
Nissim, one thing that made me feel proud to play for the Patriots was how well the team's fans travel. New Englanders are no dummies -- to have the opportunity to go to South Beach in December, I'd circle that on the calendar too. Road trip, baby!

Q.
Hey Teddy, What are your thoughts on the defense? Do you really think there are improvements or is it more a product of weaker opponents? -- John (Atlanta)

A.
First of all, John, it's one "d" in Tedy (LOL). Second, any questions that anyone may have about this defense will be answered Monday night.

Q.
Tedy, with a big Monday Night Football game coming up, I was wondering how the Patriots typically approach the game with an extra day of rest? Will the players meet and practice on Sunday? Do they get a chance to watch some of the other games? It's not usual for them to have Sunday off, so I'm curious to know what goes on with the extra day. -- MJ (Boston)

A.
MJ, it could get confusing during the week when you play on a different day. You're so scheduled about a certain day of the week being handled a certain way. Coach Belichick would actually come in front of us at the team meeting and say, "Today's Thursday, but we're really going to handle it like a Wednesday." When you hear that, players know how it will be. I'll put it to you like this: Sunday will be like a Saturday; Saturday will be like a Friday; Friday will be like a Thursday ... and so on.


Q.
Hey Tedy, a question and a comment. Do you think the defense can continue to improve over the last four games? Comment: Romeo Crennel is a great man. -- Patrick (Keene, N.H.)

A.
OK, Patrick, over the last four games the improvement will hopefully come with the return of some injured players -- Chandler Jones, for one -- and more consistency in the secondary. You nailed it when you say Romeo Crennel is a great man. The way that Coach Belichick is so regimented and strict at times, Romeo Crennel always gave players a unique combination of solid coaching and emotional support.

Q.
This is looking ahead to next week, but could you see the Patriots go much more run-heavy against an aggressive Houston defensive front? It would slow down the Texans' rushers and open things up a bit more for our passing game. Not to mention eat away time off the clock. What are your thoughts? -- A lonely Pats fan (in California)

A.
Lonely Pats fan, I don't think the Patriots' offense ever worries about chewing time off the clock unless it's situational. But when the Patriots' offense anticipates complex defensive schemes or extraordinary talent (for example, J.J. Watt), they have gone to the hurry-up mode in the past to take away complex defensive calls that take time to communicate or take aggressiveness away from fantastic players.

Q.
Hi Tedy, I am a 24-year-old female and I just suffered a stroke. Like you, I had my PFO closed and, like you, I am a professional athlete. I am a professional figure skater. Two weeks ago today, I had my closure performed. And two weeks from today, I will be heading to "Skating with the Stars" overseas in Amsterdam. I am writing to you because you have been quite an inspiration to me and my family. We keep saying, "If Tedy could make it back on the field getting clobbered by guys, then you can make it back on the ice to get thrown around by a few." My question for you is this: How did you feel after the surgery/stroke? I am a bit scared. I had my stroke the minute I got off the ice, and since then I have skated twice, and I have been a bit nervous -- thinking I am going to move the device or that it could happen again. Did you have any palpitations or side effects? I feel a bit "foggy" sometimes and I think I tend to "space out" on occasion. haha. My doctor tells me everything is fine and I can go back to skating, but I am still scared, especially since it is so fresh. Did you have any side effects from the blood thinner? Like you, I am very impatient and I want to get back on the ice. The recovery process is not as fast as I wanted it to be. I am a very motivated person but sometimes I have been feeling a bit down in the dumps -- which I am thinking is probably from the trauma of the surgery/stroke. Did you? Anyways, I am happy to hear you are doing great and I wanted you to know your recovery has been the biggest inspiration to me, getting me to get back out there. Thanks! -- Alexandra M. (Boston)

A.
Alexandra, contact colleague Mike Reiss via Twitter and we will connect.

Q.
Hey Tedy, Jerod Mayo didn't take one to the house but that third-down sack was nice. I think you deserve some credit for predicting a big play from 51. Put a little Mayo on that sacked lunch, right? -- Eliott (New Zealand)

Q.
What did you think about Mayo executing your favorite "hug" blitz technique on a big third down yesterday? -- Marcos (Boston)

A.
Eliott and Marcos, you two have a good football eye. That was exactly the technique I talked about in last week's podcast. I felt like picking up my phone and texting Jerod to tell him how perfect of a "hug" technique that was. But I'm sure I'll see him soon to tell him. It couldn't have been executed any better. The back he was covering stayed in to block, Mayo faked to the outside, and exploded to the quarterback. I smiled and laughed for about a full minute.

Q.
Tedy, loved you in NE and love the stuff you do for ESPN Boston. My question pertains to the offensive line. For most of the season even with backups in, the OL looked really good in the run and passing game. What happened in Miami? They looked out of synch and Brady got hit several times. I understand that the deadline passed for Brian Waters to return, but what can they do to ensure this doesn't happen against two pretty good defenses coming up (Houston, SF)? Thanks Tedy, keep up the good work! -- Ryan B. (Scottsdale, Ariz.)

A.
Ryan, to get to Brady the way the Dolphins did, a couple things have to happen. First, you have to have good coverage, and at times in the game, the Dolphins' secondary was forcing Brady to come off his first and second read and find other options. This is when it puts pressure on the offensive line. Usually Brady is so good at reading coverage, he gets the ball out so quickly that it covers up some of the issues that come with a makeshift offensive line. But when you have a secondary that can execute good coverage, that's when protection becomes even more important. I'll spin this forward -- if the Texans can force Brady to pump once or twice, with J.J. Watt coming after Brady, the return of Logan Mankins would help.

Q.
Tedy, in David Halberstam's book about Bill Belichick, called "Education of a Coach," it talked about Belichick instructing the defense when he was with the Giants to let Thurman Thomas get over 100 yards. Were you ever in a situation where you were told to play like this in order to entice the other team to run. I remember being very frustrated in a game against the Colts one year when it seems like Edgerrin James was getting 5-6 yards every time he carried the ball, but, on the other hand, Peyton Manning wasn't throwing it. The Pats ended up winning a close one, as I recall. Just curious if there are some times when a team is actually wanting to give up some yards on the ground? The defense would have to be pretty talented, confident, and in control for something like this to work. -- Jim L. (Macon, Ga.)

A.
I love this chat because questions like this bring back memories. The brilliance of Coach Belichick really comes through when going up against teams like the Bills of that era, or Peyton Manning and the Colts. Prior to playing the Colts, we knew there was one way we didn't want to get beat. It was by Peyton Manning throwing it deep down the field. If they wanted to beat us with Edgerrin James, so be it. Coach Belichick would instruct our safeties not to concern themselves with the run. I remember him telling us, "You defensive front players are going to have to stop the run on your own, because I cannot ask our safeties to do both this week. If Edgerrin runs for a 5-yard gain, so be it. Just make sure it's not a 50-yarder." Defensively, Jim, sometimes you just have to pick your poison.