Jon Scott: Junior needed to get into football shape. He still has amazing instincts and passion for the game. There's no debating that he isn't the same player he was a few years ago, but he's not being asked to do too much in this scheme. The more Seau gets back to his former conditioning, the more action he'll see. Having Jerod Mayo back really takes a lot of pressure off the team reyling on Seau's contributions.
JS: That's a great question. I think Bill Belichick has a deal worked out with a super bubble gum maker. The team added depth to the defense over the years, but that depth has been sorely tested this season. We really won't know if the replacements are "good" until we see them play over the next five games. But all signs point in that direction. Bruschi had clearly lost a step, even Seau was playing better last season. Harrison couldn't come back from injury again, and the team found Brandon McGowan, who has been a huge surprise in the secondary. Brandon Meriwether has stepped up his game as well. At corner, the Patriots like what they have in rookie Darius Butler — already much better than Hobbs — and Leigh Bodden has been a marked improvement at the other corner. The loss of Vrabel hasn't been noticeable with the acquisition of Derrick Burgess and Tully Banta-Cain. Combined, the pair is on pace to outperform Vrabel's contributions from last season.
Q: Where is this defense most vulnerable?
JS: The run defense could be an issue for this team with three defensive linemen hurt and Seymour playing for the Raiders. It's a toss-up between run defense and a pass rush. If New England faces a quarterback who can pick apart the secondary with time, then they could be in real trouble (read Saints and Colts).
Q: The Pats spent a few early draft picks to rebuild the secondary; how have the new guys performed?
JS: As mentioned earlier, Bodden (a veteran) is playing well at one corner spot. The other is manned by a combination of veteran free agent acquisition Shawn Springs and rookie Darius Butler. Butler looks like the real deal. With the exception of being beaten by good route runners, Butler has been in on key plays this season. He defended Derrick Mason in the end zone in the Ravens game, preventing two possible touchdown catches. He also had coverage on the final Ravens play, which Mark Clayton dropped. Rookie safety Patrick Chung, the other second-round pick, hasn't seen much playing time with the elevated performance of Meriweather and McGowan.
Q: Is there any one player on special teams the Dolphins should be concerned about?
JS: The Patriots kick return team has been relatively quiet. Julian Edelman was developing into a solid threat, but he has a broken arm and has missed the past few games. On punt return, it's been Wes Welker again. Everything Welker does in the passing game he uses in the return game. He's the guy to keep an eye on for Miami.