Join my chat every Monday to have your question considered for the weekly Bruschi on Tap Q-and-A.
Q. Tedy, about 3-4 weeks ago I asked you if this team was peaking too early and you said no. I have too much respect for you to challenge your answer. However, a couple of less-than-impressive games later followed by a bye week have me wondering a little bit about this team. Our O-line is a problem. If we go up against a strong defensive front that can get pressure, then the short passing game this team lives by becomes difficult. Are these things correctable, or should we be hoping like heck we don't see the Ravens in two weeks? -- Brian (West Virginia)
A. Brian, you can challenge my answer whenever you want, bro. It's OK. I have thick skin. I think this team will be ready for whatever team they play in two weeks. I don't want to say it's OK to peak too early, but they have some similar situations going on to what we saw earlier in the year. But you have to ask yourself the question, does this team have the ability to "re-peak"? With what the Patriots have going on -- with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman and Dan Connolly coming back -- I do. I think it sets up for an offensive explosion in the divisional round.
Q. Tedy, missed your Breakdown this week. It is almost unbelievable to me how bad the offense has been the past five games (third quarter against Miami excepted). What, in your opinion, is the problem? -- Bob (Coventry, Rhode Island)
A. Bob, there has been some shuffling going on that is very similar to the early part of the year. Edelman (concussion) has missed the past two games, Gronkowski sat out the finale, Connolly has been out. The positive of it all is that it gives them two weeks to work things out, and players will be coming back healthy. I anticipate an offensive explosion in the divisional round.
Q. Tedy, the NFL is a young man's game. Tom Brady has to play off-the-charts clean games for only three games in a row, but that's against the best NFL teams. I love my Patriots, but with this offensive line, I don't see this Patriots offense dominating anyone in playoffs. Especially against Baltimore or Pittsburgh. Your thoughts? -- Chris (North Carolina)
A. Chris, my thoughts are that you are overestimating the importance of the quarterback position. If you are thinking that Brady needs to throw for 300-plus yards and three touchdowns every game, you're mistaken. He needs to take care of the football. The Patriots need to be able to run the football and let their defense do what it does best. The defense is a great unit at taking the ball away. The years when Brady has had those spectacular numbers, the job was never finished. He now has a defense that can take this team to the championship.
Q. I wasn't one of the guys who was bashing Brady at the beginning of the season. I knew he wasn't the problem. However, over the past six weeks or so, I've watched his QBR descend every single week. While the QBR is only what it is, his performance has tailed off, not putting together a full 60 minutes of strong play. Would you agree that if he doesn't get back to where he was during the Cincy-to-Detroit stretch, we're not winning anything this year? -- EK (Tel Aviv)
A. This is what I know from experience, EK. Playoff games are won in so many different ways. I'll give you the example of the 2001 AFC title game when we had to have two special-teams scores to beat Pittsburgh. You can't rely on one player or one unit to win a championship. If Tom struggles in the divisional round, the defense has to pick him and that unit up. And vice versa. Don't underestimate the special-teams unit either. The special teams have made big plays all season. Quarterback play is complementary. To advance in the playoffs, all three units have to do their part.
Q. After the close win against the Jets, prior to the Bears game, I asked you where you thought the Patriots were trending and how the Patriots compared to what I termed a "complete" Broncos team. You astutely pointed out that a) you felt the Patriots were trending in the right direction; and b) teams with high-flying offenses like the Broncos tend to slow down come winter. You were right on both accounts, and with a "new season" about to begin, where do you see the Patriots trending? Seems to me their offensive line woes have returned and the winter months have brought a chilling effect on the Patriots' offense, but their defense is really playing some great ball. -- Tron (Waltham, Massachusetts)
A. This is a good question. Let's look at the other AFC teams in the playoffs: I don't see Pittsburgh trending up. I don't see the Colts trending up, in terms of Andrew Luck not taking care of the football. I do see the Ravens starting to play "Ravens-style" football, which could be dangerous for the Patriots. The Broncos are going through something where Peyton Manning's ability to throw the football is almost an afterthought. And the Bengals are a mystery in my mind. So in terms of the Patriots, I think from what they've shown this season in terms of being able to win games in multiple ways gives them an advantage over all of these teams right now. And obviously playing at home is a huge plus for them.
Q. Tedy, were you a believer in carrying momentum into the playoffs as a player? Do you think that this loss and the way the Patriots played will have a negative impact moving forward or will we see that next gear from the Pats in the playoffs? -- Jonny (New Hampshire)
A. This depends on whether you have momentum-creating players, which I think the Patriots have. This isn't a front-running team. This defense, especially, has players that can make big plays and change momentum in games. They have offensive players as well. Darrelle Revis, Jamie Collins, Edelman and Gronkowski are some that come to mind. All it takes is Gronk to throw one more guy into the camera, and this team is rolling.
Q. Tedy, I'm very concerned about the team's ability to win in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. The defensive line can't seem to get any consistent pressure. But the offensive line can't pass protect or run block. Can you see anything that can be improved for the playoffs? -- Peter (Ireland)
A. Peter, right now what you see is what you get. But two things that concern me greatly going into the postseason is the Nate Solder knee injury and the effectiveness of Connolly after about a month off.
Q. Do you think the Jets made the right call in firing Rex Ryan? -- Dan (Brighton, Colorado)
A. I think you saw what Rex Ryan could do with a team early in his career when he had the right pieces. But how many times has Bill Belichick not had the right pieces and figured it out? That is an unfair statement, a bit, because of the advantage that Belichick has had at quarterback. I would have liked to have seen Rex Ryan stay in New York. I felt like he was perfect for that team and city.
Q. Tedy, how about Rex Ryan as the Patriots' defensive coordinator? Thoughts? -- Chris (NC)
A. I always respected Rex Ryan as a DC, but Matt Patricia is quietly one of the best in the business. He's one of the few coaches who has taken everything he's learned from Bill Belichick, and used his knowledge in football to make it better.
Q. Do the Patriots win a New England versus Green Bay rematch? -- Nate (Bedford, Massachusetts)
A. If Aaron Rodgers has a bad leg, absolutely.
Q. Happy New Year, Tedy! OK, the real season starts in two weeks. As a former player having played for a team that had a first-round bye, how do you get ready for that first playoff game? What is it like in that huddle with everything on the line? -- Tony (Houston)
A. Love the way all of you have moved on from the Buffalo game and straight to the bye week and the next playoff game. You all sound like Coach Belichick! The bye week will usually consist of getting your body in the best possible shape you can and enjoying the little bit of time off that you have. You have three teams you could possibly play, so you start thinking about those. I always made sure I watched those games on TV when I could. It gave you a feel for what was winning games, and what was losing games, in the playoffs. So in terms of the huddle with everything on the line, you do your best to keep it as normal as possible.
Q. I know you've played on a bunch of Patriots teams that had a first-round bye locked up before Week 17. How did you personally feel about playing that Week 17 game? Was it pretty much a preseason feel or were you trying to bring the same intensity as you would any other regular season game? -- Matt (Roanoke, Virginia)
A. If you played in the game, you always wanted to win. Personally, I don't like the way they lost to Buffalo. I don't like how they were losing after the first half. The Patriots finished 12-4. A 13-3 record is better than that and I'm sure they all wanted that. I would have. too.
Q. Hi Tedy, thoughts on Jimmy Garoppolo's play? Definitely has the ability to elude pass rushers in the pocket. Do you feel Belichick sees him as Brady's clear-cut predecessor? -- Tommy
A. Not at this point. There is no rookie that has had limited reps that Belichick will see as the quarterback of the future. He did do some good things, but I thought he held the ball too long at times. He did some things that impressed me in terms of scrambling out of the pocket, rushing, running for first downs, improvising when a play breaks down. But that's not the way you want your quarterback to play. The kid has a long way to go.
Q. Tedy, Patriots defense is much better than last few playoff runs. The main concern I have is lack of pass rush, I think this will kill the Patriots when playing playoff-caliber teams. What can Pats do to create more pressure on opposing QB? -- Chris (North Carolina)
A. This is just like the OL problems, Chris. You can't just magically create pass rush if you don't have it. Either your front-four is going to get to the passer or not. You have to hope Chandler Jones finds his groove. Rob Ninkovich has great timing when it comes to making big plays, but you can't all of a sudden send 6 or 7 rushers, because when you play a QB like Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers, they will slice you up.
Q. Do you think the game against the Bills does anything to improve Brady's confidence in throwing to a guy like Brian Tyms? He hasn't been involved in the offense much, but, with other guys out of the lineup, Tom was forced to go to him a few times and it worked out OK. -- Mike (Quincy, Massachusetts)
A. Obviously, Gronkowski sat out, and I think it was the right decision. It was good for Brady to work with a guy like Tyms and try to get a little more comfortable with him. Still, it looked forced at times. Also, this team probably needs a few reps without Gronkowski, because what happens if he goes down in the divisional round? I think that was good prep for them for if you get a worst-case scenario deep into the playoffs.
Q. Tedy, if Josh Gordon gets cut by the Browns like some are predicting, is he someone the Patriots would consider adding in the offseason in a buy-low situation? -- Mike (Newington, Connecticut)
A. Buy-low situation, a one-year prove-it deal -- it sounds to me that Gordon is the type of player who could take advantage of that situation and Belichick is the type of coach who could extend his shelf life in the NFL beyond one season. But this kid has some growing up to do.
Q. Who are your dark horses to watch on the Pats' O and D this postseason? -- Rob (Florida)
A. As excited as everyone gets about Revis and Collins, and the plays they are making, you always have to keep your eye on Ninkovich. He'll make a play and the words that come out of your mouth are, "There he goes again!" Offensively, how about Danny Amendola? He's starting to come along and I like his feisty approach.
Q. Tedy, in situations where nothing is at stake from a playoff positioning standpoint, we've seen Belichick limit snaps for certain players to heal from existing and avoid new injuries. Are there similar limitations on the complexity of the scheme against say, a top defensive line like the Bills in order to avoid giving away potential strategies and tactics in playoffs? Might this explain some of the struggles we saw yesterday from the OL and in other areas? -- John (Singapore)
A. John, absolutely, this is a great question. You don't want to show new things to your opponents in the playoffs in a season finale that they can see and game plan against. Also, you have players trying to gain experience. So you can specifically put in plays where they can work on certain aspects of their game. Deep comeback routes to Tyms. The 1-on-1 situations for Josh Kline on the OL. Or maybe you can compensate game plan protection schemes for him, but you say to yourself, "He needs to work on 1-on-1 situations, so let's leave him alone and see how he does." Then he can learn from it. Defensively, you might have players that need to work on man coverage skills, you play a certain defense and don't offer help. These are things where you can't get better as a player without the game reps.
Q. Looking ahead massively, but what do you think of our schedule for next season? Things can change quickly in the NFL, but looks a hell of a lot easier than the one we had this year! -- Jamie (London)
A. We're on to the bye week, Jamie!
Q. Collins and Dont'a Hightower are gonna be the next great linebacker duo. Am I jumping the gun on this? -- Bobby (Arizona)
A. All of our past great LB units had three, and I think you're jumping the gun if you don't include Jerod Mayo in this. With Mayo included in the mix next year, the answer is absolutely.
Q. Hey Tedy, how do you feel about Tyms? I like his attitude and a deep-threat element he could bring to this offense. -- Paul (Boston)
A. The deep-threat element of this offense is Gronkowski, and it's from the 20- to 25-yard range. I would much rather see those attempts than shots down the field to Tyms. I like the kid, too, but are you hanging your hat on a deep threat to Tyms in the playoffs? I'm not. If you're going to throw it deep in the playoffs, for one play, I'm going to Edelman off play-action.
Q. Hey Bru, am I wrong that Rob Ninkovich has had a slight decline in play the last two to three weeks? Haven't seen him in the offensive backfield wreaking havoc lately. -- Tom (Boston)
A. I agree. But having said that, Ninko is just the type of player that once you doubt him, he'll do something to win the game. So here's my prediction for the divisional round already: an offensive explosion and Ninkovich makes a big play to help win the game.
Happy New Year everyone. Bru out!!