Behind Enemy Lines, Part 2

To get some inside information on the Dolphins' next opponent, the New England Patriots, we checked in with Patriots Insider publisher Jon Scott. Part 2 takes a look at the New England defense as well as Bill Belichick's relationship with Nick Saban.

Q: Junior Seau was lost for the season two weeks ago and Sunday Mike Vrabel appeared to sustain a significant injury after his game-clinching interception. Are those injuries at linebacker at some point going to be felt, or are the Patriots just going to keep plugging new players in and not miss a beat?

Scott: Seau will be missed. The Patriots have a more aggressive defense when Vrabel is on the outside and someone like Seau is in the middle. When Seau went down, Vrabel stepped up to man the inside and Tully Banta-Cain stepped in for Vrabel on the outside.

Although the Patriots have a couple more players they can add to the mix in the middle, if Vrabel isn't available it will severely handicap what the Patriots can do on defense. Run defense has been a problem for the team, and with both Seau and Vrabel (two of the better run stoppers on the team) out, teams will find success attacking that part of the Patriots defense.

Vrabel looked like he should be OK for this Sunday's game. Although he got "dinged," he was in the locker room after the Detroit win, something that wasn't true with Laurence Maroney, who also got dinged.

Q: Who has been the best player on the New England defense this season?

Scott: Although Asante Samuel will get credit for his success picking off passes to lead the NFL in interceptions so far with seven, the best player on defense continues to be Richard Seymour. His presence elevates the entire front seven, putting pressure on opponents to get rid of the ball faster, allowing Samuel and others to make plays in the secondary.

It's hard to pinpoint which player is the single best on that defense, because without Tedy Bruschi I firmly believe the Patriots would have real trouble stopping anyone. So the top three in no particular order should be Seymour, Samuel and Bruschi. Honorable mention should go to Vrabel for his versatility.

Q: A little while back, the feeling was that the Patriots secondary was vulnerable and could be taken advantage of. Is that still the case?

Scott: Absolutely. The Patriots secondary is prone to giving up big plays against good passing teams. Troy Brown has played on defense because of the shortage of healthy bodies, and with Eugene Wilson now sidelined for the season (IR), the team had to sign Ray Mickens just to put another healthy body on the field.

If you look at the unit, you'd never guess they ninth-best overall defense. Take a look at what Jon Kitna and the Lions were able to do even after coming under pressure from the front seven and you can appreciate what a good passing team can do against the Pats secondary.

Q: How does Bill Belichick view the games against Nick Saban, one of his former proteges?

Scott: Belichick doesn't talk about going up against his former protégés much. Actually, he tries not to talk about them at all. If it were up to Belichick, he'd probably avoid any mention of the opposing coach, but that's not something he can do.

The New York media made a big deal out of the lack of perceived courtesy Belichick extended to Eric Mangini when the Patriots played the Jets this season. Belichick wouldn't' even mention Mangini by name when asked about the situation. You probably saw the video of their meeting after the game, which was a very quick handshake on the field as both coaches headed off to their respective locker rooms.

The separation with Mangini is a bit more controversial than Saban's parting. Saban took a head coaching position in the college ranks after working under Belichick in Cleveland, and moved on to LSU before finally landing in the NFL. The relationship with Saban appears to be based upon a certain mutual respect. Belichick has complimented Saban's extensive knowledge and expertise numerous times even going so far as to laud Saban's expertise. There's little doubt the Patriots coach wants to defeat his former assistant, but a certain friendship continues.

Q: Do you consider the Patriots a legitimate Super Bowl contender, or do they fall a notch or two below the elite teams in the AFC (Indianapolis, San Diego)?<>Scott: After witnessing the struggles the Patriots have had against teams like the Lions, Bills and the Jets, you have to wonder if the Patriots do indeed have what it takes to make it to the Super Bowl. With Tom Brady under center, there's always the potential of this team to go deep into the playoffs and defeat any of the teams at the top.

I think San Diego poses the biggest threat to the Patriots at this point. Some would say Baltimore's defense, but I can't say that New England wouldn't find a way to shut down Steve McNair. And the Colts are always a threat, but the postseason and Manning just don't seem to agree.

If New England can get a bye, then, yes, I see them challenging for a shot in the Super Bowl. They just don't look consistent enough to me right now to say they're a shoe-in to make it that far. I think there are a number of teams that could knock them out especially, the two you mentioned.

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