By: Derek Havens
After the NFL season comes to an end, all of the leagues 32 franchises will have questions to answer. Bleacher Report’s Erik Frenz and I analyze some off – season concerns for the Patriots moving forward.
What Are The Biggest Needs?
Erik – No question at all, defensive end and outside linebacker. The Patriots need to get aggressive in the front seven. For the past two years, the pass rush has been a joke. The Patriots didn’t register a single pressure, let alone a sack of the quarterback against the Jets.
They have many other pieces in place, but the clear missing component of this defense is a pass rusher. Even if the specialist wouldn’t be an every-down player at first, he would contribute on the key third downs… you know, that down that the Patriots defense could never seem to get off the field in 2010.
Derek – After the Jets loss a few weeks ago, Patriots nation was divided for the first time this season. Almost everyone had differing opinions on what this team needed to do in order to be successful again. However, the Patriots biggest need is nearly unanimous, find a pass rusher.
The Patriots need to find three down players at both outside linebacker and defensive end. In fact, they could use two or three players to play OLB. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line is aging and needs to be addressed. Logan Mankins and Matt Light’s contractual situations will have a heavy hand in what this teams priorities are moving forward.
Who Will Rush The Passer?
Erik – Getting back to the last question, I don’t think the Patriots have a legitimate threat off the edge on their defense. Mike Wright was the teams leader in sacks with 5.5. Is that even allowed in professional football? Gerard Warren (or as I like to call him, Warren G) was good in spots, but the reality is the Patriots need someone to come off the edge. Whether it’s a draft pick or a free agent remains to be seen.
Personally, I hope the Patriots take a similar approach at outside linebacker to what they did in the 2010 draft at tight end. If they draft multiple guys with high enough of a ceiling, they could hit big on one or both of them.
Derek – Just as the team has turned over specific positions each of the last few seasons, outside linebacker should be targeted this season. The team could bring in a veteran or two in free agency (pending a new CBA) while also drafting two prospects. To say this team needs an upgrade at OLB would be an understatement. But, they don’t just need guys who can rush the passer, they need guys who can just flat out play all three downs.
Overhauling the position and reloading it with talent could revitalize this team. No secondary can cover forever. NFL quarterbacks are too talented to have the time this defense allowed them last season. A pass rush talent could be the difference of hoisting the Lombardi trophy and talking draft in late January.
Does The Offense Need a Wide Receiver?
Erik – In short, yes, but it doesn’t have to be the most dynamic play maker ever. The Patriots lacked a deep threat against the Jets, but the Patriots offense functioned fine without one against that same Jets defense just six weeks prior. What the Patriots really need is someone who can get separation, who can beat a jam and get off press coverage. They need a big, physical receiver. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be a first-round pick or a big-time free agent, but even just a third- or fourth-round guy who can do work against those physical Jets cornerbacks would suffice.
Derek – Yes, I believe the team does need to add wide receiver talent. This offense executed beautifully when Randy Moss was traded. However, the receiver talent is not as solid as many would think. However, wide receiver is not a top need for this team. I would put it well behind outside linebacker, defensive end, offensive line, and even running back. I would expect Bill Belichick look to the mid rounds of the draft to fill the need.
Does The Offensive Line Need Retooling?
Erik – Age is becoming a serious concern for the Patriots offensive line, with only two of their starting five under the age of 30. That being said, the weakness in the Jets game wasn’t the line. Most of those were coverage sacks, where Brady simply had nowhere to throw. The offensive line consistently gave Tom Brady all day to throw all season long, and opened up holes for their first 1,000-yard back since 2004.
I wouldn’t say they need retooling, they just need reloading. If the Patriots can stock the shelves with a couple of young interior offensive linemen, they’ll be just fine.
Derek – The offensive line most definitely needs retooling. I remain hopeful the Patriots can resign Logan Mankins and resolve this situation. I was questioning Matt Light returning to the team, but I feel with all the question marks along the unit, the Pats may look to keep him. Dan Koppen is adequate but may only have a season or two left in him, and right guard Stephen Neal already said 2011 would be his last. Logan Mankins and Matt Light’s contract situation could put the Patriots offensive line needs from third to first. This area needs to be addressed moving forward.
Will The Patriots Name Coordinators in 2011?
Erik – Matt Patricia and Pepper Johnson split the defensive coordinator duties and thus neither carried the official title of coordinator. Bill O’Brien was the unofficial offensive coordinator, as the quarterback coach made play calls.
If the Patriots are going the coordinator route for 2011, it’s safe to say it won’t be an earth-shattering signing of some big-name coach. The Patriots usually rely on home-grown coaching talent to teach their schemes. It’s worked for them in the past, and I expect that to remain the method going forward.
Derek – The Patriots coordinators position is an intriguing scenario. I expect Bill O’Brien to be named offensive coordinator before next season starts. He certainly earned that title with great work in 2010. I am not as sold on the defensive side because Belichick played such a large role with that unit. Matt Patricia, Corwin Brown, and Pepper Johnson also contributed heavily in the Patriots defense.
I am trying to envision a scenario where Bill names a coordinator on one side of the ball and not the other, but it is hard to do. I am curious if one of the defensive coaches emerges during off – season workouts. In any case, look for the Patriots to hire from with-in the organization.
Have a different take on these questions? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!