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The Other Side: Bedard on Tom Brady's motivation, defending "Gronk," the secondary

In this week's "The Other Side," we catch up with Sports Illustrated NFL senior writer Greg Bedard, who has covered the New England Patriots extensively at SI and the Boston Globe. Bedard sees the Patriots using the Bills' comments as fuel, explains that the Bills must hit tight end Rob Gronkowski off the line of scrimmage and offers his take on the game...
Q: You've been in that Patriots locker room a ton. What do you think Tom Brady and Bill Belichick's reaction is to hearing what they do in Buffalo?
Bedard: Oh, they'll use it as fuel and want to shove it down the Bills' throats. I get not wanting to appear intimidated by the Patriots, but I think Rex is taking the wrong approach. They should be killing them with kindness, playing up the fact that the Bills have only beaten the Patriots once in a real game (last year doesn't count) since 2003. I mean, Rex had his best triumph, the 2010 playoff game, after being humbled in the regular season. He should have learned something from that. You don't want to give Belichick a motivational card to play. Rex served one up on a silver platter.

Q: Darrelle Revis is gone. Brandon Browner is gone. What kind of shape is New England's secondary in?

Bedard: Not great, but they're still playing man coverage so there will be plays to be made by the Bills if Tyrod Taylor is accurate down the field. Greg Roman likes those shot plays. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler is the No. 1 cornerback, and he's pretty good. Very competitive. Great burst, good ball skills although he struggled with that against the Steelers. Tarell Brown is the other starter and he's decent. Bradley Fletcher came on in nickel against Pittsburgh, kicking Brown inside. Fletcher is a big weak spot. They might give Logan Ryan a chance this game. Patrick Chung isn't a safety anymore (you'll rarely seeing him playing deep) so he's basically a small linebacker. Patriots will play a lot of two man with Devin McCourty, who's very good, and Duron Harmon (average) deep. They don't play much zone anymore.

Q: Pittsburgh didn't seem too concerned about covering Rob Gronkowski. When he has been neutralized before, what are defenses doing?

Bedard: I'll never understand how opponents give Gronk a free release off the line, like Pittsburgh. You'd never see the Patriots do that against a top tight end. Since Tom Brady is big on timing and quick passes (especially with a really shaky offensive line in front of him), it's imperative to knock Gronk off the line of scrimmage. That might be enough for Brady to look elsewhere. He's always looking for the easy money throw first. But I'd bang him off the line, follow him with a linebacker and have a safety over the top. Rex is the best in the business so he knows you can't do the same thing every time against Brady. So he'll change of the looks presnap against Gronk. I'd also bracket Julian Edelman. You have to make Brady beat you with people other than Gronk and Edelman.

Q: What did the whole Deflategate saga do to Tom Brady's psyche? Is this about as motivated as you've seen him?

Bedard: He looks about as drained as I've seen him this early in the season. I think it really wore on him. But I don't sense much extra motivation from him. Last year, after everyone was calling him done after the Chiefs game, that's when I saw an edge. This is normal Brady operating procedure.

Q: What's your prediction for Sunday and why?

Bedard: Sorry to say, but I don't really have one. I've tried to get out of that business. But I see this being pretty close. I think the Bills will have success running the ball against a mediocre Patriots defensive interior. I think Taylor will struggle because the Patriots will take away some of the predetermined first reads. I think the Patriots will have a tough time protecting Brady. But I also think the Patriots will make some plays because I have a hard time believing the Bills, two games in to the season, have the communication needed to run this defense to perfection. I bounce here or there will tip this one.

 

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