ESPN NFL analyst and former Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi, in his weekly interview with WEEI’s Dale & Holley show, offered his view on New England’s blowout victory over the Bears, the challenge that lies ahead in game-planning for Peyton Manning and the Broncos and the embarrassing season-ending injury for Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston, among other topics.
Bruschi noted that the Patriots offense appears to be in a tremendous rhythm, with the performance of the offensive line in combination with the return to full Gronkitude by Rob Gronkowski combining with the emergence of wide receiver Brandon LaFell to give Tom Brady a tremendous number of weapons. That being the case, Bruschi suggested that pursuing Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson in a trade would be an ill-advised course.
“I think you look down the road and consider if it would help. I think you consider it for a moment because that’s what a good general manager would do. But in terms of this situation right here with the New England Patriots, I don’t think it’s the right move at all, especially with the development of Brandon LaFell,” said Bruschi. “You see the development. You see the progression. Ever since that first drive of the Cincinnati Bengals game is when I think this offense truly woke up and said, OK, let’s go. From that point, they started rolling and rolling.
“I just don’t think you want to put in another element into it that you may have to spoon-feed things to. You can’t give him the entire plate right now because he couldn’t handle it right now. He probably couldn’t digest the entire plan right now. So you spoon-feed him a little. But when you do that to one player, it has a trickle-down effect to others along the line,” added Bruschi. “Jobs are going to be different for other people down the road. Say Vincent Jackson comes in and you say you can only play this position. It messes up this offense. You’ve got to know how to play every single receiver’s spot along the front so they can have that flexibility that they want. You wouldn’t have that off the bat with him. Would you have some growing pains along the line to develop that? I think you would. I think you roll with what you’ve got right now.”
To listen to the complete interview, visit the Dale & Holley audio on demand page. Here are other highlights of Bruschi’s interview:
On whether Sunday against the Bears was as well as Bruschi had seen Brady play: “No, I don’t think that’s the best I’ve seen him play just because of the quality of competition he was going up against yesterday. There were some young defensive linemen who really didn’t know what they were doing for the Bears. The linebackers, oh my gosh, they looked lost at times. I’m still waiting for them to read play-action. They still can’t find it.
“It’s a team that, even watching Miami the week before, they had a lot of difficulty with misdirection. ‘¦ How they’d bite and just commit to the first look was really something you knew you could hit somehow if you could designate a plan. ‘¦ These linebackers, I counted them this morning, there were times when they were taking six false steps. Usually you hop, you take one step, you read, you get back to your zone coverage. ‘¦ They went all the way with that run. They took it hook line and sinker, and it made for an easy day. So I’m not going to say that’s the best I’ve seen Tom play. I’ve seen him play much better against a lot better competition.”
On the Broncos: “I think the biggest improvement, looking over to the Broncos side of the ball, is their defense, how much better they are than last year. … Brandon Marshall, not the receiver, the linebacker has been playing good football for them. But Chris Harris Jr., the cornerback, he’s one of those players that a lot of people don’t know about. He’s a great player. Of course Talib is over there. TJ Ward is a good safety. The defensive backfield is playing really well. It’s easy to point out the health and production of Marcus Ware and Von Miller but that defense is going to be the reason why if Peyton has some success this year.”
On game-planning for Peyton Manning: “You’re concerned every time he throws the ball, especially now as you’re looking at this offense. The weapons that they have where you can throw it behind the line of scrimmage to whomever you want and they can still take it the distance, of course I’m talking about Demerius Thomas. I would think, with the addition of Julius Thomas, I would have this mindset: Every time Peyton Manning handed the ball off was a good thing because that’s one less time he would throw the ball.I would dare him to run it. I’d put four or five goes in the box, double up, man-up outside, have guys deep in the middle of the field and say every handoff to Ronnie Hillman and whatever running back you’ve got back there, it’s better than every time Peyton Manning throws the ball. Let’s scheme it that way. Let’s throw the three-man rush at them, four-man fronts. If they want to throw the ball, which they did last time — Moreno I think had a huge career day against the Patriots — but still, you’re taking it out of the hands of one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL at quarterback in Peyton Manning and forcing him to run the ball. … He does have an equation in his mind coming up to the line of scrimmage. He says to himself, ‘What do I have here? What’s best for offensive success on this single down?’ If he reads it and he says, ‘I’ve got to run this ball because they’re daring me to,’ I think that’s actually the plan to start. … If you dared him to [run] every single down, I don’t think he’d do it every single down. Eventually he’s going to throw it. You have the numbers, and maybe you get the advantage that way.”
On the success of the offensive line and importance of establishing the run: “[The running backs] weren’t actually getting touched until they got through the line of scrimmage, which is getting yards before contact, which is always great for setting up play-action. They were using the play-action on first down to LaFell, a lot of load-X slant, where you load one side of the formation, get the linebackers to go to that side, the back-side of the X you hit on the slant. There was a lot of that going on and LaFell is a big-bodied receive to get that done. … If they can win inside, a lot of good things can happen from it.”
On how a linebacker might try to cover Rob Gronkowski: “I think if I were a linebacker that had to cover Rob Gronkowski in coverage, I’m using my defensive end. … That’s my hope. Once he displaced, then I’d be happy because it wouldn’t be my problem. Hopefully he’d turn over to a safety or cornerback. But that’s a tough assignment for any linebacker in the league right now. As Rob starts to get his feet under him, he’s looking good, he’s shedding tacklers, breaking away in the open field, it’s such a great thing with that to combine with, you get four or five yards a carry, you’re able to get Gronkowski, you’re able to get play action, you’re able to split him out on a simple five-yard in against a smaller cornerback. … That’s something no linebacker wants to see. I’d probably pass it off to [Roman] Phifer, actually.”
On Rob Ninkovich‘s impact: “Even from mistakes, he learns from them. He gets beaten to the flat earlier in the year by Lamar Miller with the Dolphins, you don’t see him make that mistake again. That’s the sign of a great football player. You make one mistake, you learn from it you don’t make it again. … You expect him to do the fundamentally right things every single down but then all of a sudden he’s making plays that change games. He’s done this for the last two years or so. Very underrated linebacker. It’s going to be hard for him to make a Pro Bowl or something like that, but I think he deserves it because of the consistency he’s shown throughout the last two years, always making plays. Ninkovich makes it easy for Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick to make a game plan. They know he’s a guy, if there’s someone we know we need to put more of a burden on, who has the mental capacity to handle more on his plate, I think Ninkovich is the guy they look to.”
On the injury incurred by Bears defensive end Lamar Houston, who blew out his ACL celebrating a garbage-time sack while his team was being blown out: “I felt sorry for that guy. I felt bad for him. ‘¦ A guy got hurt. He made a mistake … not understanding the situation, man. You’re losing by a lot. You sack the backup quarterback. The dance comes out. You guys have said it already, but that’s not what you’re looking for.
“He acted like he hadn’t been there in a while. ‘¦ His production hasn’t been what he wanted to be, and, ‘Oh, man, I got it, I don’t care who it is, and I’m supposed to do something, right?’ Like I said, guys, just not what you’re looking for.”