Defense in Focus: Decisions Must Be Made

Derek Havens
February 17, 2012 at 07:00am ET

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Even though the New England Patriots were in the Super Bowl, the team still has holes to fill and will look to upgrade the roster during the off-season. Along with the other 31 NFL clubs, the Patriots' front office will be looking to improve the team for the 2012 season. Here are few questions and decisions New England will need to answer in the coming weeks.

The Patriots must first decide who they are on defense. Are they a 3-4 defense? Are they a 4-3? Are they the hybrid kind of defense they showed towards the end of the year?  The answer to these questions will dictate what kind of player the coaching staff should focus on in the front seven during the off-season; whether that player is a defensive and or an outside linebacker.

So this team really must look inward to what their base defense is going to be for next season before they can look out to the free agent pool and the incoming class of rookies hoping to join a NFL roster in April.

Finding Devin McCourty's permanent position could change how the Patriots upgrade the defense this off-season. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Next, I believe this team needs to establish a defensive coordinator to start the season. Whether that is giving the job full time to Matt Patricia, or bringing someone from the outside in to work with the defense. I believe it is important to establish a face with the unit so that all of the players know who is in charge.

For all these years, it's been Bill was running the show, even though there has technically been a defensive play caller. Now I am not saying that Belichick should not have a considerable amount of input, because believe me, he will. I just think it would benefit the team, more specifically the defense, to know who is in charge of that side of the ball.

The Patriots then need to decide what direction they want to go with some of the older players they signed last summer. Whether or not they want to keep the younger guys who were placed on injured reserve or were inactive for most of the year and give them the chance to develop, or attack free agency.

Belichick and the New England coaching staff have certainly proven over the past couple of years that they can find success with guys who are established veterans in the league. The answer is probably somewhere in between the two, but the team still must make a decision.

I believe the front seven needs more attention than the secondary, even though the Patriots were ranked second to last in the entire NFL against the pass, but the defensive backfield will still need some attention during the off-season. Devin McCourty is a player who could really change what this team decides to do moving forward. Figuring out what McCourty’s best role is, will ultimately dictate what direction this team needs to go based on his permanent position.

If McCourty is a cornerback, then this team needs another safety to pair with Patrick Chung. If he is a safety, then this team probably, once again, needs to look at a cornerback in the upcoming draft. Either way, this unit needs stability for next season, something the defense clearly lacked for the majority of 2011.

Overall, I believe this off-season needs to be about establishing an identity for this New England defense. There are a lot of the young players with a tremendous amount of ability, but there is no doubt this unit needs more help. Whether this team needs to bring in more talent on the coaching staff or on the football field, through free agency or the draft, they need to make some pressing decisions very soon.

There were a lot of moving parts on the defense last year and it seemed each week, the team had a different defensive alignment or there were new players at different positions. Establishing who the key defensive contributors are will be key for the Patriots next season. If Belichick and the coaching staff can accomplish this, there is no telling what this team can achieve in the future.

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