I'd like to address the attitude of the Patriots Defense: It has been restrained, and the demeanor of the coaching staff has permeated their play - aside from Spikes (and the occasional Chung, who is otherwise irrelevant), too little gusto, too little bravado, not enough willingness to be dirty. We lavish praise on our generally affable, likeable players. As fans we like to sneer that our players are morally superior and classy. Except it has become clear that a successful team, or more specifically, a defense shouldn't be classy. It should be dirty, it should embrace a few flags to hit the QB, to smash opposing skill players, and to ENFORCE. It's simply too difficult to play defense 'clean' in the NFL. Say what you want, but this defense MUST morph into the bullying, Richard Sherman-esque, Bernard Pollard-esque, dirty, foul, deeply repulsive type of defense to have any shot of slowing down a modern NFL offense. The Packers SB aside, it has become a common sight, year in and year out. Ask the limping Welker, the knocked out Ridley, the afraid to catch Vereen from this game, and alligator arms Hernandez from the 49ers game, Gronkowski from last year.... Need I go on? How many more games will this team lose for not returning these sorts of favors? Thoughts and Solutions: 1.) Matt Patricia is a good Defensive Coordinator. While he didn't call the most amazing game, the loss was not on him. The issue is that he's an Xs and Os guy with (from what it appears to me as a fan, and knowing his background as a Rocket Scientist) little understanding of the mental and intangible parts of coaching. We've built a coaching staff of automatons and football nerds. BB needs to step up here. If you can't get fire and attitude from your coaching staff, you must find it in terms of new players. 2.) Draft/Sign FAs that bring attitude to the locker room. It's difficult to find players who can be both coachable and while still maintaining a good, dirty, physical attitude, but it simply must be done. 3.) Let them talk a little. There are many merits to be a tight-lipped organization, but I fear that it quenches the fire and competitive spirit in players. Primarily on the offense. Brady can rouse his O, but it's clear that this defense has no warrior mentality. Drum up some fire. Just a little relaxing would be good for this team. Defensive Personnel: 1.) We need a real SS. They have a purpose, and Pollard showed us for the fourth time what it is. It's too bad Chung is too fragile and isn't taking to coaching - his hit on Nicks more or less took him out of the rest of the 2011 Giants Superbowl and was a clear reason for why teams deal with usually poor coverage abilities of strong safeties (Whitner and Pollard?). They beat up the opposition. This may make you uncomfortable, but if your defense isn't trying to rough up opposing players and, yes - occasionally lay out the opposition with flag-warranting hits - your defense is soft and will get run over. And you need that Strong Safety to lay some hits. McCourty is a great player, but he's a cerebral, finesse safety. Which is fine for a FS. Gregory is too small and is also a finesse free safety. Which brings me to my next point: 2.) Having two coverage FSs on the field mean you simply don't trust your corners and LBs to cover. To nobodies surprise, when Talib when down and Arrington was put in, a severe blow was put on the defense. Depth is desperately needed. We had two physical corners and backups that couldn't play man. Talib goes down and everything falls apart. People who credit the defense's rise this year to McCourty alone are blind. Talib is crucial. We must draft and sign physical CBs and replace backups that can't... backup without changing the entire gameplan. It's not just the corners that necessitated two coverage FSs - it's the... 3.) Linebackers. They're too big and slow. We heard about it a lot, but the Patriots finally paid the price for it. Mayo is good, but one of Hightower and Spikes has to sub out in passing downs. They're simply too lumbering and slow. Spikes is pretty clever with his coverage and shows surprising abilities, and Hightower is deceptively quick for his mammoth size... but these should be traits that the team counts on if the opposition shows run and passes instead. Pats lost a great player for the season in Dane Fletcher and will get him back next year, but you should never ever rely on a single player to fill a role. Another coverage LB is necessary. Sidenote, but I think the team wastes one or two spots on ST only players that can't fill in on other roles. Someone like Niko Koutivedes should be a useful defensive player. 4.) As we feared, the pass rush disappeared. Nothing too surprising, but a disruptive player needs to be put on the other side of Jones and to allow Ninkovitch to backup either side when one goes down. Offense: What can I say... one part bad luck with injuries, another part seemingly lack of heart, another bizarre reluctance to go no huddle early on. Yeah, there are some things to fix, but getting players back from injury will surely help. Specifically Jake Ballard, who will be counted on in case Gronk's injuries continue to plague him next year. I do see some things to work on, however: 1.) Wes Welker is a phenomenal player. Truly important to this offense. But he cannot be the focal point of this offense. If he is the focal point of the offense, the team is doomed. Against great, great teams, gameplanning will force him to do things he is simply not meant to do. People defend the guy against haters and rightly so, but the Patriots offense has developed a crippling reliance on Wes Welker. This is NOT BAD BECAUSE WES WELKER IS A BAD PLAYER. This is bad because if you are relying on your smaller, heavily planned against slot machine this hard, you are predictable and can be slowed because YOU ARE LACKING OPTIONS. One has to wonder if this was the point in limiting his snaps early on - to develop other players in Edelman? A moot point, I suppose, since Edelman is injured. This part was rambling, and I suppose a WW defender will come and crucify this part, so I want to clarify again that it is not WW at fault - it is the reliance on him due to lack of other options. And part of that is due to injury. Bad luck, but it'd help if we had a... 2.) Deep threat. Yeah, people tried deluding themselves for the entire season that the Patriots didn't need a deep threat. Look what one 'one trick pony', 'can't beat press' (I said that!), deep threat did to the Patriots D. So feared was that deep ball that we were eaten alive by outside runs and passes to the flat. If there was any better illustration of why 'taking the top off of a defense' is important, this was it. Burned into the retina. I hope we never hear that this isn't an important element of an offense ever again. It's not crucial, but it's IMMENSELY helpful. I can think of a player who hopefully won't return to make room for a deep threat. 3.) Deion Branch. Twig is done. Love ya guy, but he's been done for a year now. It's time to use backup roles on young development guys and develop them. Hopefully that's what Brian Daboll is for. The later we wait to get a WR and develop them (takes at LEAST a year, if not two), the less useful they will be for this offense while Brady is still on top of his game (hopefully for a long time). The deep threat mentioned above should be the guy to take Branch's place. 4.) Height. Boldin took the Pats D to school on why height is important. But it's difficult to think who should be cut to get one if the deep threat isn't this guy. Vereen, Edelman, Woodhead, WW, and Lloyd are the possibilities, and I don't see WW and Lloyd going anywhere. Let's hope the new deep threat is this height guy so we don't have to cut any of Vereen, Edelman, and Woodhead. Although with Demps waiting in the wings, it may be inevitable unless a defensive ST-only guy is cut to take his place. I wouldn't shed a tear. Gronk coming back and Ballard being available may be the solution to this already, but its something to monitor. Ballard may just enter the rotation instead of Daniel Fells, with Hoomanawanui staying, allowing Vereen, Edelman, Woodhead, and Demps (if a ST only guy is cut) to all be on the roster. It's because of this that I think... 5.) The future is bright for this offense. Assuming WW comes back (and it'd be suicide not to), and the moves detailed above take, it can only be better! And besides the deep threat, the answers are already on the roster. I think our losses to physical defense is a matter of sizing and height, and it's my hope that Ballard, Gronk, and a tall deep threat can be the solutions. The defense... is still a problem. Aside from the corners, I do think it's a deeper, philisophical issue that may be harder to fix. I don't know if there's an easy solution, and if having stud players all around is enough to get the D where it needs to be. It's nice, but... one need to only look at the way the 49ers D played before and after Harbaugh to see what I think this team is missing.