The New England Patriots are out of the playoffs after losing 28-13 to the Baltimore Ravens due to an absolutely terrible second half from both the offense and defense. The Patriots did not play their best game, and they simply didn’t get it done when they needed to. I still don’t understand how they kept just missing out on points when they were driving deep into Ravens territory, so I’m going to chalk it up as a “team loss” where the team collectively didn’t get it done. But in losses like this, team needs are magnified.
1. The Patriots need a deep threat
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots needed to put up some quick points on the board, but they weren’t able to because they didn’t have a true deep threat who could stretch the field vertically. The only player on the team who was getting hit deep by Brady was Wes Welker (Aaron Hernandez had a couple of looks downfield), and that’s a huge problem for the Patriots. Wide receiver is a need for this team going forward, and I think they have to pick up Tavon Austin if he is available in the late first round. I also think the Pats need to hold onto Donte’ Stallworth, who is a legitimate deep threat and showed it by taking his only reception of the season to the house against the Houston Texans.
2. Possible upgrade at safety
I know a few Patriots fans want a new safety this offseason, and I think the guy who needs to be on his way out for the Patriots to make move there is Steve Gregory. If the Pats truly feel like they need a better starting strong safety next to Devin McCourty, then they need to get a safety who is better in coverage. Gregory was poor in coverage all year and missed 13 tackles, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him kept on the Pats as a backup. Patrick Chung has trouble staying healthy, but he actually played well this season and outperformed Gregory. I want to see more Chung and Tavon Wilson and less Gregory going forward, and Gregory showed poorly against Baltimore. Safety isn’t a big need in my eyes, and I think the Pats need to focus on a wide receiver or a defensive tackle more. Cornerback could also be of need since Aqib Talib and Kyle Arrington are hitting free agency.
3. Don’t take it out on Wes Welker
I know he had an awful drop that killed a ton of momentum for the Patriots, but the team can’t afford to just let Wes Welker waltz out of New England. That’s a different story if Welker wants too much money, but I don’t see why some Pats fans are suddenly taking it out on Welker. If you’ve followed this team closely for at least this season, then you definitely know that Welker hasn’t shown the steadiest hands. But he is easily the best slot receiver in the NFL and not somebody the Pats can readily replace. I’m still not sold that Julian Edelman can fulfill Welker’s role, especially since Welker has the sort of toughness over the middle of the field that is not easily matched. I hate to knock players for being injury prone, but Edelman did break his foot and hand this season. I like Edelman, but the Pats need to do everything within reason to keep Welker. I mean, it isn’t like the rest of the wide receivers around Brady are the most consistent players out there.
4. Brandon Spikes a two-down LB?
The New England Patriots coverage in the middle of the field against running backs has always been problematic, and Brandon Spikes had two playoff games where he looked well below-average in coverage (as he has all season). I love Spikes and think he is easily one of the best run-stopping middle linebackers, but the Patriots might want to think about replacing him on certain downs for a better coverage linebacker of the Bobby Carpenter mold to help contain running backs. Jerod Mayo has been much-improved in coverage and is no longer a liability, while Dont’a Hightower has also made some strides as a coverage LB (remember that play in the end zone on Pitta?). This is just a speculative note on my part, and I want to hear some reader input on this one.
5. Keep Aqib Talib
I think this one is pretty obvious. It’s not so much that Aqib Talib is a great coverage corner (I think Alfonzo Dennard is actually better), but it’s the fact that he has ball skills, talent, and has looked great in coverage over the past three games after shaking off the rust coming from Tampa Bay. With Talib in the line-up, the Pats pass defense is so much better because it prevents Kyle Arrington from moving outside and getting burned (good nickel corner, awful “traditional” coverage guy). It also allowed Devin McCourty to permanently settle in at safety, and that’s the sort of schematic impact that makes-or-breaks teams. To me, the loss of Talib broke this team.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.