Commentary

Bruschi on Tap: Six observations

Why Pats' D should make Belichick ill, impressions of Hernandez, appreciation for Moss

Updated: September 27, 2010, 4:15 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi | ESPNBoston.com

Six observations from the New England Patriots' 38-30 victory over the Buffalo Bills:

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick
AP Photo/Charles KrupaThe numbers teams are putting up against Bill Belichick's defense are alarming.

1. Pinpointing defensive struggles. Three games into the season, it looks as though the Patriots' offense will have to score 30 points a game to win. Statistics don't lie in this case. The Patriots are giving up 27 points per game and 379 yards per game. Bill Belichick has to be sick in his Gillette Stadium office right now. For a Belichick-coached defense to have those numbers this early in the season is very, very uncharacteristic. Opponents are putting up big numbers, and the Patriots are also failing in the situational areas. Every game this year, the Patriots have given up points in the two-minute drill before the half -- a 54-yard field goal against the Bengals, a 49-yard field goal against the Jets and a 34-yard field goal against the Bills. The Patriots' defense and Belichick have prided themselves on making the right calls in the right situations, with the players executing.

2. Belichick's personnel changes. An error repeater is the last thing you want to be known as on a team coached by Bill Belichick. When you become an error repeater, you find yourself on the bench. We saw it this week with outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain and cornerback Darius Butler not starting and the previous benching of safety Brandon Meriweather. Usually when players make mistakes, coaches will provide them with necessary improvements, and the problem is solved. When a benching occurs, it means that this method has been tried over and over again. For Banta-Cain and Butler, problems have ranged from fundamentals to poor decision-making, things such as not reading your keys properly, getting your eyes caught in the backfield, not trusting your techniques in coverage down the field or hitting someone late out of bounds. These are all fixable problems, and sometimes riding the pine is the best way to help a player see the light.

3. Looking closer at filling Kevin Faulk's void. The Patriots leaned on multiple players to replace Kevin Faulk on Sunday. We saw receiver Julian Edelman in the backfield; he took a handoff, and they attempted a screen pass to him. Running back Danny Woodhead had a great day with big runs against the sub defense. It's not as if this is new to Woodhead. In 44 games in college at Chadron State, he averaged 178.9 rushing yards per game. I think the Patriots can replace Faulk with him, but one thing I didn't notice was blitz pickup. When the Patriots had quarterback Tom Brady in the shotgun and you saw Edelman or running back Sammy Morris or Woodhead in the offset position next to him, it was mainly four-man rushes. The situation didn't arise often when they had to pick up the blitz. Faulk's ability to decipher whom to pick up on the blitz makes him valuable. That is still an aspect that needs to be watched.

4. Another area to watch with Faulk not in the lineup. A lot of attention was paid to how the Patriots replaced Faulk on offense, but special teams shouldn't be overlooked. Julian Edelman was called on to return punts inside the 20-yard line, and that is another area where Faulk was important. It's the same role Troy Brown had in the past. That is when you want a returner back there who not only has the surest hands but also makes good decisions in fielding the ball. Faulk was perfect for those situations. His hands are second-to-none, and he always made the right decisions on whether to fair catch the ball or let it bounce into the end zone for a touchback. Can Edelman be as consistent? And can he do it as the weather worsens and the ball is drifting in the snowy Foxborough sky? That will be another area to watch as the season progresses.

[+] EnlargeRandy Moss
Greg M. Cooper/US PresswireAppreciate Randy Moss while he's here, Patriots fans. There will never be another receiver like him in New England.

5. Aaron Hernandez looks like Dallas Clark. It's early, only three games into tight end Aaron Hernandez's rookie season, but he already reminds me of Dallas Clark. The way the Patriots are using him is similar to the way the Colts use Clark -- splitting him out as a receiver, in the slot, offset at the line of scrimmage in the YY wing (when you have two tight ends lined up together on the end of the line, with one on the line of scrimmage and one off in the wing), at fullback. Early in the game, you saw him get the ball on a tight end reverse. The Patriots realize what they have and are finding ways to deliver him the ball. One problem that Hernandez is having is that he is a little too aggressive when running a clear-out route. You saw Wes Welker lined up next to him when Hernandez runs straight through the defensive coverage, and Welker crosses behind him. Hernandez was penalized for offensive pass interference. This is something rookies, bigger receivers or athletic tight ends, have to learn. You have to be subtle. You can't put your head down and drive-block the defensive back in front of you. You have to be a little bit of an actor and look as if you're trying to release, even though all you're really doing is blocking and clearing things out for Welker, Edelman or Brandon Tate behind you.

6. Pausing to appreciate Randy Moss. I know Moss can rub people the wrong way with things he says and when he says them. Two weeks ago, he was talking about his contract after a big win over the Bengals. He's been criticized for that, but at the same time, I hope the fans in New England realize that they're watching one of the best wide receivers in the history of the NFL. He now has 151 career regular-season touchdown catches. Jerry Rice (197) and Moss are the only players in NFL history with at least 150 touchdown catches. Moss also has 14,604 receiving yards, passing Marvin Harrison for the fifth-most receiving yards in NFL history on Sunday. Moss is in the conversation when we talk about the best receivers in the history of the NFL. When he is gone, no longer playing for the Patriots, we won't see catches by anyone -- whether it's a draft pick or someone else they bring in -- like he made last week against Darrelle Revis. No one will be making catches like we saw Sunday -- in the middle of three Bills defenders, teammate Brandon Tate and an official -- for a touchdown. It's not something that should be taken for granted. What we're seeing, what we're witnessing, is something that no receiver will ever do again in New England.

ESPNBoston.com analyst Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team.

Tedy Bruschi

Columnist, ESPN.com
Tedy Bruschi spent his entire 13-year career with the New England Patriots after being drafted in the third round out of Arizona. He played in five Super Bowls, winning three. He retired prior to the 2009 season.

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