Commentary

Patriots should get back on track

Titans' banged-up secondary looks vulnerable

Updated: October 17, 2009, 7:01 PM ET
By Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Join the conversation every week as former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi and Mike Reiss break down New England's upcoming game. This week it's Patriots-Titans …

Mike: Tedy, it's the 3-2 Patriots against the 0-5 Titans. This one doesn't have the sizzle of this season's first five games. Patriots-Bills was the opener of a new season, so there was excitement there, then it was the Jets, Falcons, Ravens and Broncos, with each game having its own big storyline. Where do we start with the Titans?

Tedy: This is definitely a game I feel the Patriots should win, and win handily. On offense, Kerry Collins looks like he's playing uninspired. Watching him Sunday night against the Colts, I saw a quarterback who looked like he was just going through the motions. Meanwhile, their secondary is decimated by injuries. If Tom Brady doesn't have a huge day Sunday, you have to wonder when he will.

Mike: On his weekly conference call, Titans coach Jeff Fisher was asked point-blank if he was considering a change at starting quarterback. He said he hasn't wavered and Kerry Collins is his guy. The sense I get from the Patriots this week is that they are working hard to convince themselves the Titans are better than their record. Think there is any danger in underestimating this team?

Tedy: Let me ask you this: How special are the Patriots right now? They're 3-2 and they desperately need a win. Not only do they need a win; they need to start stringing wins together. They aren't in a position to take anyone lightly. If they were 5-0, maybe we could be talking about this. Right now, they're packed in with a lot of other teams in the middle of the league at 3-2.

Mike: Great point, Tedy, and one that hit home to me as I broke down the AFC with CBS analyst Rich Gannon. Before we move on to this week's matchup, let's clean up any leftovers from last Sunday's 20-17 overtime loss in Denver.

Tedy: Taking away Randy Moss' interception on Kyle Orton's Hail Mary pass before the half, I thought Orton played perfectly. I didn't anticipate that. I don't think anyone else did. I'm still wondering how long he will go before throwing a meaningful interception. The defense of the Broncos lived up to its billing. Combine the great play of that defense with the inconsistencies of the Patriots' offense, and you have an equation that equals defeat for the Patriots. It's disturbing that it's Week 6 and the Patriots are still talking about getting on the same page and being consistent. The Giants aren't talking about consistency. The Saints aren't talking about consistency. Neither are the Colts. That's why those are the best teams in football.

Mike: Any thoughts on Junior Seau's arrival?

Tedy: I still think Junior is going to contribute to this team. Junior's days of playing every down are over, but he can come in and contribute a handful of plays in any game and be an emotional spark for an entire team. It reminds me of Bryan Cox in 2001. Cox didn't do much on the field, only playing a handful of plays every game, but sometimes those plays were very meaningful. Cox was a strong locker-room presence.

Mike: Bill Belichick tells a humorous Cox story about leadership. I guess a defensive lineman in front of him was supposed to run into the gap and didn't, so Cox walked over to the lineman after the play and told him that he was going to kill him if he did it again. The lineman thought it was a joke at first, but after Cox stared him down, the lineman was motivated by fear. Needless to say, he didn't forget the gap assignment the next time. Belichick's point was that leadership comes in many forms, and that form was certainly unique. Tedy, you had your own distinct leadership style, too. I'm curious if you received a call from the Patriots about filling the spot that Junior is in.

Tedy: Bill and I spoke during my retirement and he asked me about the possibility of coming back late in the year. I told him I wouldn't be answering the phone. When I retired, the cord was cut.

Patriots defense vs. Titans offense

Mike: One of the things that stands out to me with this matchup is how different Collins and Vince Young, his backup, are in terms of style of play. As a defensive player, how challenging is that?

[+] EnlargeKerry Collins
Fernando Medina/US PresswireKerry Collins hasn't had much go his way this season, but coach Jeff Fisher says he's sticking with him.
Tedy: To prepare for two different quarterbacks like Collins and Young can be mentally challenging. But one thing that should help the Patriots is that they've made it a point to keep only smart players. Recognizing who the quarterback is in the huddle is the first thing the defense will do, because each quarterback will trigger a different game plan. With Kerry Collins, you must get pressure in the middle of the pocket and get him off the "spot." The "spot" is the area 4 to 5 yards behind the center, and that is where Collins wants to play football from -- that's where he reads defenses, plants his back foot and delivers the football. You want to move him from there so he has to rediagnose the defense and recock his arm, because he has a long throwing motion. He's had a problem with that in the past. With Vince Young, you have to be disciplined in your rush lanes and stay in front of him at all times and not let him out of the pocket. You want to keep him in the pocket and make him throw the ball from the "spot." Two totally different plans that must be executed in two totally different ways. Can they achieve that?

Mike: When you played, did you look at teams in the Titans' situation as dangerous?

Tedy: Not really; you just look at them as another opportunity, not an 0-5 team, but a team you have to defeat. Just like last week doesn't matter, the previous five weeks don't matter, either. When you look into the minds of the Titans, sometimes when you're on a bad team like this, 0-5, you want to go on the road. You want to get away from the local media, and get away from the fans that see you at dinner or on the street and give their two cents on how things can be fixed. You can come together as a team on the bus, on the plane, in the hotel, in the stadium where you have the feeling of togetherness because everyone in the stadium is against you. That can bring a team a feeling of unity that you sometimes can't have at home because sometimes everyone is booing you at home when you're on a bad team.

Mike: From being in the meeting rooms with him, how do you think Bill Belichick is approaching this week with the players?

Tedy: I'm sure he's highlighting Tennessee's best individual players. I'm sure he's talking about Kyle Vanden Bosch and the motor he has; Chris Johnson and how dangerous he's been; Cortland Finnegan, Kevin Mawae and how good they are. Sometimes you can't focus on the team, because there are no really good team stats to bring up. Sure, you could say they are third in rushing yards allowed per game (75.4 average) but I think he's more apt to highlight the individual players.

Mike: It's probably safe to say the list starts with Johnson.

Tedy: I think Patriots players can expect to hear the same five words all week: Set the edge on Johnson. If Johnson bounces outside and uses his speed to go up the sideline, that can be a problem. He's one of the most explosive players in the league. So it's set the edge on Johnson, get Collins off the spot, and stay in the rush lanes on Young.

Mike: My thought was that Seau's arrival could mean more 3-4 defense. What do you think?

Tedy: I still don't see them going back to that. They made such an effort to go to the 4-3, where Jerod Mayo can be the centerpiece in the middle and Gary Guyton can move outside. With Adalius Thomas as the other linebacker, that is a very athletic linebacker corps.

Mike: That will be interesting to watch because that is one of the things you hear when speaking with some personnel people around the NFL. They say the Patriots are a big, physical defense that can sometimes struggle in space. Doesn't sound like that linebacker corps would struggle too much in space.

Tedy: One other thought I had was that Titans tight end Bo Scaife stood out to me Sunday night against the Colts. He showed a lot of fight. And speaking of fight, the last time the Patriots played the Titans, at the end of the 2006 season, there was almost a fight after every snap. I know because I was involved in most of them. So keep an eye on any types of altercations, pushing after the whistle. That's what happens when these two teams have played.

Patriots offense vs. Titans defense

Mike: You mentioned before that this looks like a golden opportunity to get the passing offense back on track.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesWes Welker and the Patriots receivers will be facing an inexperienced, patchwork secondary.
Tedy: The Titans' defense has done a few positive things, like the rushing yards per game, but their defensive backfield is absolutely decimated. Cortland Finnegan might play, but he's been nursing a hamstring injury (editor's note: Finnegan has been ruled out of the game). So there could be two rookies in the secondary at the same time, Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton. With receivers like Wes Welker and Randy Moss, when they see rookies they salivate. Add on top of that that Nick Harper has a broken forearm and it's a secondary that is bandaged together.

Mike: Sounds like a perfect week to go to a spread offense and hope the protection holds up at the line.

Tedy: If there is any week where they can say after the game, "It's nice to get on the same page, it's nice to establish consistency," it's this week.

Mike: I do think the Titans' front seven can create some problems, Tedy. I'm interested to see what the Patriots do if Matt Light doesn't suit up at left tackle, and my feeling is that he won't play. Do they put the rookie, Sebastian Vollmer, at left tackle to protect Tom Brady's blind side? Or do they slide Nick Kaczur over there because he's had a bit more experience?

Tedy: I think the decision is easy. You put Vollmer in for Matt Light. They're very high on Vollmer. He had a great training camp. He's shown he can play. I don't think the Patriots' coaching staff has any reservations to have him start at left tackle.

Mike: What did you see from Vollmer in camp?

Tedy: I just saw a player who had great technique for being so long [6-foot-8, 315 pounds]. He always kept a solid base. You never saw him losing his balance and looking uncomfortable out there as a rookie should. If there are any problems he might possibly have, it maybe would be mentally with the protections, changing from one side to the other side. But with center Dan Koppen and left guard Logan Mankins there, communicating, they'll make him comfortable, and he should do a good job.

Mike: If they go that route, the Vollmer versus Kyle Vanden Bosch matchup figures to be key.

Tedy: Right. That's one of the three matchups I've isolated in this game: Vanden Bosch versus Vollmer, Johnson versus Mayo and Finnegan versus Moss if Finnegan plays. As quick as Johnson is, I know Jerod and Gary see that as a challenge. They are both very quick and very fast. They're probably looking forward to the opportunity to run him down.

Mike: You accomplished some great things as a teammate of Tom Brady. He looks frustrated to me because he's missing some throws he normally wouldn't. Do you see the same thing?

Tedy: No one holds him to a higher standard than himself. What I think we're all realizing is how serious his injury was, and how even the toughest of players, with the utmost skill, still take time to regain form. Just like Peyton Manning last year, coming back from knee problems.

Mike: It seems like they're still trying to find their identity on offense. You previously called for more balance, and they've done so the last three weeks.

Tedy: The running game needs to be utilized. I still think they need to be balanced, and make that effort. This isn't 2007 any more. Tom is not going to throw 50 touchdowns, and Randy is not going to catch 20. The offense has to play as a unit. They have to be able to run the ball. When the time comes to throw, they have to convert there. I think throwing the ball is going to be more effective this week.

Mike: That third receiver spot looks like it's hurting them. I think we'll see Joey Galloway back on the field after being inactive the last two weeks.

Tedy: Fans watching the game this week only need to look at Tom when they come up in multiple receiver sets. Does he even look to the third receiver, whoever it is? Or does his progression go from Welker to Moss, or Moss to Welker? That will give you the answer how Tom feels about the third receiver.

Mike: Let's wrap this up, Tedy. After five straight weeks of facing an undefeated team, the Patriots are at the opposite end of the spectrum this week and next. After Tennessee, they play Tampa Bay (0-5) in London next week. I think they should be 5-2 at the bye.

Tedy: That Tampa game in London, it's win any way you can -- the trip, the field, the weird surroundings. But on this game, I think the Tennessee Titans are a prime example of how the NFL window closes so suddenly -- to be a 13-3 team last year and now 0-5 this year with an aging team. Their window is closed, shut and locked. It's a prime example of how you must take advantage of years when you realize you have a great team. Last year's 13-3 team was their opportunity. A loss in the playoffs doesn't necessarily mean you will be back next year. A loss in the playoffs could mean the end of an era. I think about my opportunities with the Patriots and winning three Super Bowls, and we were able to take advantage of those good teams. That's the difference between winning championships and being considered a flash in the pan.

Tedy Bruschi played 13 seasons for the New England Patriots and is a member of the franchise's 50th anniversary team. Mike Reiss is the Patriots blogger for ESPNBoston.com. You can reach Mike by leaving a message in his mailbag.

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.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

EDITORS' PICKS

ALSO SEE