Patriots Insider Editor Jon Scott is this week's guest on 10 questions.
5) Tedy Bruschi will never be overly impressive in the measurable categories, but what is it about him that makes him the single-most indispensable player on that defense?
Jon Scott: The Patriots aren't fixated on gaudy stats. They only focus on one thing, and that's beating the guys across from them on any given Sunday. Bruschi epitomizes that philosophy as well as any Patriots player past or present. He's done everything asked of him as a former college defensive lineman turned linebacker. He's fought through injury, and he's become one of the unquestioned leaders on the team.
Tedy isn't a guy who will boast about his stats after the game or get caught up in the glam available to him, and that is why so many people love him: fans, coaches and teammates. It's that same "I'm no better than anyone else here" mentality that has become embedded in the culture of the Patriots, and it all centers around Tedy. He makes the calls, he leads by example, he doesn't complain or sound off, and he avoids the spotlight.
There's probably a lot of players in similar situations around the league, but Bruschi just breathes 'lunch-pail mentality' everywhere he goes, and it's contagious. The guys around him want to be like him and be as good as he is. Tedy doesn't do fancy commercials or have his own dance. He just goes out and plays. He expects everyone else around him to do the same, and they know it. That's why the team needs him. He is the culture.
4) Why does it seem that the Patriots never have any healthy depth in the secondary and are always piecing together the defensive backfield with no-name players?
JS: Great question. We ask this every year. This was the first year in a while the Patriots opted to go all offense with a few token additions to defense in the draft and through free agency. That left many wondering, "What about the secondary?"
The return of Chad Scott and Rodney Harrison from injury combined with the continued development of some young players put the Patriots in a more comfortable position this season, or so they thought. A lot of their struggles in the secondary have been the style of play and just unfortunate circumstance.
Any team that loses both starting safeties and both starting cornerbacks is bound to field a bunch of no-name players as it were. New England just uses other team's castoffs to round out their unit. Scott and Artrell Hawkins and are experienced veterans who can play safety or corner. The rest are young players the team is trying to groom for future years, including Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson and James Sanders.
3) Junior Seau was ready to retire before getting the call to come to New England, but how well has he played and has he been a good fit for this defensive scheme?
JS: Initially, we were doubters of Seau's ability at this point in his career. He took a little while to learn the scheme, but the fact that he came from Nick Saban's defense – a defense very similar to the Patriots – helped Seau learn the schemes quickly. Figure in the fact that Seau is one of the first players in the building to practice, and you don't have to wonder for long how Seau was able to last this long in the NFL.
The guy is in great shape. He's making the plays he needs to, although there are times he has struggled. He is a major upgrade over the players the team tried to use in the middle after Ted Johnson retired. Without Seau on the team, it's hard to imagine New England's defense being this decent.
2) Is the defense a house of cards ready to come crashing down now that Rodney Harrison – one of the more vocal leaders in football – is out with a shoulder injury?
JS: I would have said yes if it weren't for a similar situation last season. Harrison was knocked out for the season with a major knee injury in Week 3 against the Steelers. While Harrison's absence hurts, his replacement, Hawkins, has experience filling in for him.
Hawkins is no Harrison by any stretch of the imagination, but he knows where he should be, and more importantly, he knows where his teammates should be in certain situations. That wasn't the case last year.
Don't forget, when Harrison went down last year, Bruschi was still out. Bruschi is still there to make calls, and Hawkins has experience working with him. The secondary is susceptible to a strong passing game, and that hasn't improved at all without Harrison in the mix. But the play of the front seven has really been the saving grace. If the front seven do their job, Troy Brown could serve as the team's starting corner and it wouldn't matter.
1) The Patriots used to have a monster home-field advantage but have struggled at Gillette Stadium this season. Is this simply an anomaly, or is there something brewing?
JS: The Patriots are good but have played good teams at bad times and had some bad breaks during those games. They lost to Denver when the defense was just getting used to new faces again. They lost to Indianapolis by just a touchdown after working hard to give the game away with interceptions and fumbles. They lost to the Jets by three because the Jets know the Patriots better than any other team out there and had a solid game plan.
Those three losses to those particular teams are probably not a sign of problems with homefield as much as the quality of the opponent. Although there are rumblings that the stadium is turning into more of a wine-and-cheese crowd, it can still get noisy inside Gillette. Inflation may be changing the type of fan who can afford to come to the games, but I think the main issue is the teams that the Patriots have played this year.
The Bears are the fourth tough opponent the Patriots face at Gillette, and it will be a struggle for the Patriots to find a way to win. Field turf, grass, and rowdy fans or not.
And to wrap it up ... what do the Bears have to do to beat the Patriots?
JS: 1) Get to Brady – The Patriots have had their fair share of difficulties protecting Tom Brady during games. The Broncos and Jets were able to get pressure on him with their front seven and even a disguised blitz every so often. It was enough to throw off the rhythm of Brady and his receivers and put the Patriots offense back on its heels. When Brady has time, he turns in games like the ones against Minnesota and Green Bay. When he's pressured, sometimes he can buy enough time to do good things (like the Buffalo game) and sometimes he can't (the Indianapolis game).
2) Stop the run – One of the keys to the Patriots wins is the threat of having both Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney turn in solid performances. New England has tried to disguise their looks, including splitting out the running back as a receiver to slow down the pass rush. Some of those formations have been more successful than others. But when the Patriots want to run, they are usually able to build enough momentum to set up the play-action, which Brady has capitalized on to get the ball downfield, or at least to their tight end. Ben Watson. Watson leads the team in receptions.
Kevin Faulk is also a threat as a change-of-pace back. Faulk is a speedy third-down back who runs the draw well against overaggressive defensive fronts. When the Patriots can block the middle in those situations, Faulk has made some significant gains.
3) Special teams – New England has been horrid at times on special teams coverage. The unit has undergone a fair amount of turnover as special teams coach Brad Seely tried to revamp the unit to improve its performance. Last week was a major improvement over weeks past. If Devin Hester gets some decent blocking, there's no doubt he'll be able to get the Bears into solid field position to start drives. It's a matter of taking advantage of those situations to score.