Join my chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q-and-A.
Q. Why do you think the Patriots had such a hard time getting into a flow yesterday? Do you think it was just a rivalry thing, or will this carry over into the playoffs? -- Yonkers, New York
A. This is why you always get the cliché from players about it being a tough divisional game. This is the way these games go sometimes. Not only do players know each other well, but coordinators do as well. I thought Rex Ryan drew up some good pressure concepts that got to Tom Brady. The Jets were getting there with four-man rushes, but the way Ryan disguised them off the line of scrimmage exposed some problems in the Patriots' protection. This is the time of the year when you win and move on. Survive and advance, whatever you want to call it. This is the time of year when so many high-powered offenses are coming back to earth.
Q. Hello Tedy, wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year in advance! It was a tough game yesterday. What do you think about the Pats' offense since the last three to four games? I think offensively we have slowed down and are struggling (SD, MIA, and NYJ). Could this hurt in playoffs? -- Ronak P. (Edison, New Jersey)
A. Look at the trends, everyone. This is what happens to teams that score a lot of points; the numbers are never the same from earlier in the season when the weather is warmer. Coordinators have more information on what works against them, and this is an information business. What you have to trust going forward are the adjustments that will be made by this coaching staff. Coach Belichick always says these players will be put in the best possible position to make a play. Then it will be up to the players.
Q. Tedy, I don't understand the Patriots at all. I give the Jets' D-Line credit for getting pressure on Brady, but the Jets have played 11 other teams, how do they struggle to throw the ball against these guys? Just 168 in the air? Are you serious? I don't care about the division game, Rex's final home game, they always play the Pats tough, it means nothing! 168 YARDS! GAMES LIKE THIS SHOULD NOT HAPPEN! Is Josh McDaniels or BB over-thinking something? I can't even feel good about the past 10 games after a stinker like this. My mean face is on. -- Anthony (New York)
A. Of course, Josh McDaniels, Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick are over-thinking. It's what they should do. I remember before the Super Bowl against the Eagles, we were making adjustments to our pass defense based on what they saw the day before in practice. Players were saying, "We're making adjustments now with the game 48 hours away?" It's the same thing about how they ran the ball against the Colts, and then threw it against the Lions. I know I sound like Bill Belichick, but that's the way I was raised. They are going to do what they think gives the team the best chance to win. It's going to be all right, Anthony. They'll be ready to go in the divisional round.
Q. The Pats have one of the best defensive minds in Coach Belichick, the best QB ever to play the game and read defenses, play the Jets two times a year, and still cannot begin to solve Rex Ryan's defensive scheme, even with run-of-the-mill cornerbacks? What is not right in this picture? -- Prith P. (Dallas)
A. That's the thing about this scheme. It's based on pressure, so if you can get to the quarterback, it can cover up some of those deficiencies. Rex was able to do that yesterday, getting the Patriots to think one thing and do another. He showed a lot of 3-man rush over the course of the year (e.g. vs. Aaron Rodgers), but he did something different off similar looks by sending pressure.
Q. Tedy, I'm glad that we squeaked by on that one. It was an exciting, nail-biting football game. Rex really does get the Jets lathered up for our team. However, my question is do you see our offensive line having problems in the playoffs? This line looks like it regressed a bit, and against good pass-rushing defenses, Brady might get uptight. Oh, and one other question: If the Broncos were to lose tonight, do you see the Patriots sending its starters out for a quarter and letting the subs fill in for the remainder of the game against the Bills? I believe we'd have home field advantage wrapped up, and no need to put our starters at risk, but we need to maintain game-time performance for two weeks. -- Bob M. (Dixon, Missouri)
A. The offensive line did have problems yesterday. Dan Connolly, the starting left guard, wasn't playing. That led to some changes inside. Marcus Cannon was in the game at times at tackle. There were a lot of different combinations. I thought they adjusted well to some of the pressures they saw. Let me give you an example: On the first sack of Brady (12:21, first quarter), Calvin Pace had a free run at Brady with David Harris looping around from his LB position. Jason Babin was lined up at DE and beat Nate Solder to the inside. The OL executed a full slide to its right on this play, with Shane Vereen getting a free release from an offset back position. A full slide is when the left guard Josh Kline also slides to his right along with center Bryan Stork, right guard Ryan Wendell and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. The Jets had overloaded the side to the offensive right, sparking the slide call. But Sheldon Richardson dropped into coverage while the LB closest to the line of scrimmage took Vereen in coverage.
Basically all three players -- Harris, Pace, Babin -- were all on top of Brady for a sack.
Later, in the second quarter, the OL gets the same pressure. It's third-and-3 with 13:38 remaining on the drive after Danny Amendola's 39-yard punt return. You see the same disguise from the Jets and at the snap, you have the same action -- the edge rusher Pace comes, Babin from his DE position goes under Solder and Harris loops around. This time, the OL doesn't execute a full slide. Only Stork, Wendell and Vollmer slid to the offensive right. Kline, the left guard, kick-slid to his left. Vereen also stayed in to protect, giving Brady enough time to complete a pass to Amendola. Good adjustment by the OL and coach Dave DeGuglielmo. Same pressure, different result, and it leads to Rob Gronkowski's 3-yard touchdown three plays later.
These are the type of in-game adjustments you have to make against division rivals because they can know your protections and your protection calls at the line of scrimmage. Sideline adjustments are critical and the Patriots were able to do that yesterday. To go back to your question, the OL will have issues in the playoffs. But if they can sideline adjust, they will have success.
Q. The Jets had some great blitz packages yesterday. Anything the Pats can work into their own schemes? -- Lisa (Maine)
A. Actually there are some similarities between some of the things the Jets did, and some of the things the Patriots have in their system. If you recall the interception that Brady threw in the fourth quarter, that was a bad throw because of pressure. That pressure was a rush technique that used to be called a bandit scheme when I was in that locker room. It is a pick rush by two defensive players. It was executed on Nate Solder and Shane Vereen. If you watch LB Demario Davis rushing through the B gap, Vereen was attempting to pick him up. Davis, instead of rushing the QB, attacked Solder's inside shoulder to pick him so Jason Babin could loop inside. What this technique does is occupy two blockers. Here's how: Vereen is focused on the LB Davis, and he sees him go to Solder, but he stays with him because that's his assignment. That allows Babin to loop underneath.
Q. If the Bengals upset Denver tonight, how many snaps does Brady seek against the Bills? -- Mark
A. Bill Belichick is always unpredictable, but based on my experience with him, I still think all the starters go through the process. Throughout the week, you practice, stay up on fundamentals, make sure conditioning work is done, and you still dress for game-day and go through warm-ups as if you're playing the entire game. I still think they play, I just don't think they'd play much.
Q. Hey Tedy, do the Bengals have any shot tonight or will it be another classic Dalton and Marvin Lewis collapse? -- Peter (Maine)
A. The Bengals do have a shot tonight. I've been up and down on this Bengals team this year. They've had moments when it looks like they're ready to take the next step. Then there are moments I just shake my head. I think the Broncos will come out on top.
Q. Hi Tedy, of all the contending teams this year, the one we know the least is Seattle. How would you see a potential matchup with them in the Super Bowl? Can our offensive line be competitive against their defensive front? Can we stop the RBs and scrambling QB? I know the "one game at a time" mantra, but it gets boring talking Jets or Buffalo. -- Nissim (Lima, Peru)
A. I agree, it can get boring talking about a Bills game against a team that is coming in here with nothing to play for. But the Patriots need the win to get home-field advantage. Hopefully they can get it. As for Seattle, they run the ball well, which sets up play-action, and I feel the Patriots' defense has had some issues with that this year. They also have a QB who can improvise with the best of them in the game. That has also given them problems this year.
Q. Hey Tedy, I know most people will focus on the negatives of this game (and rightfully so -- the Pats played poorly), but I want to focus on one big positive that I believe the team has been lacking since it's last Super Bowl win: big plays by the defense/ special teams to close out games. The play I'm thinking of? Dont'a Hightower's sack of Geno Smith when it looked like the Jets were at least going to come away with the go-ahead field goal. This put the Jets in a long yardage FG, which was then blocked by Vince Wilfork. These big plays are what allow the team to still win when the offense struggles and were missing in both Super Bowls losses. If there's one thing this team can feel good about it's that. -- Tron (Waltham, Massachusetts)
A. The Hightower sack was a big play, and in these situations when the game is on the line, that's when you see the difference between the Patriots and Jets. More often than not, it's the Patriots making those plays. Hightower's sack is a good example. On the Jets' side, Geno Smith had a chance to make a throw for a TD against Jeremy Kerley before the first half; that has to be completed. But Smith couldn't make it. To win games in December, those are the types of throws you have to make.
Q. Tedy, great to see "Air Vince" make such a pivotal play. He's my favorite Patriot. Straight up -- can he take you in one-on-one? -- Leigh (New York)
A. I'm assuming you mean basketball. I have a mean jump shot, and the bank is always open!
Q. Especially considering how tightly contested playoff matchups are, how much of a liability are our third and fourth DBs as well as Chung/Harmon in coverage right now? -- Mike (Los Angeles)
A. Let's talk about the TD he gave up. Let me help you try to understand how difficult his responsibility was on that play. Patrick Chung is "6-foot-nothing and 200-nothing" as they say in "Rudy," one of my favorite movies. He's lined up in the box, being asked to stop the run as an extra defender. This is coming off a drive where the Jets had some success running the ball. He thinks it's coming. The Jets ran play-action right at him. It's hard for a safety to do. I'd be a little tougher on a linebacker, because that's where he normally aligns and he should have more disciplined eye placement. I'm not going to slight Chung for that play. Many LBs have been in that situation and it's a tough read, especially when a team has been having success running the ball.