When a team goes to 5 Super Bowls in 11 years and wins 3 of them, the expectations will always be Super Bowl or bust. After losing in the AFC championship this past Sunday the Pats obviously are disappointed. Maybe for another franchise it would have been a successful year, but for the Patriots it was a disappointment. Changes need to be made for them to get back to the ‘Promised Land’.
1.Re-sign Wes Welker
I am really amazed at how many people have voiced their opinion of not bringing Welker back. He is such an important part of this team. People seem to focus in on his untimely drops and want him gone, and I understand that. Ultimately though, he makes so many positive plays that it severely outweighs his negative plays. The first thing is his durability. Welker plays one of the most dangerous positions in football, he is a slot receiver which means he goes over the middle unprotected numerous times throughout the game. He is constantly smashed by safeties and linebackers and he just repeatedly gets up and goes back to the huddle. As opposed to some of his comrades in the receiver core, he never misses any time because of injuries. This year Gronk, Hernandez, and Edelman all missed games because of injuries, but not Welker. He is so tough and durable, that alone should make the Pats resign him. Welker, in my opinion is the 2nd most important player in the Pats offense, (obviously Brady is 1st). He is the one that makes all the huge 3rd down plays that the Pats need; when Brady needs something he goes to Welker. Brady and Welker have such great trust between them that sometimes it does not matter whether or not Welker runs a great route or if Brady doesn’t make a perfect throw. Welker is almost impossible to stop one on one and requires extra attention throughout the game, which opens up single coverage for the TE’s and Brandon Lloyd. If Welker were not signed, the Pats offense would just not be the same. The TE’s would get a ton of double coverage and Brady would not have the security blanket he has had over the last 5 years.
2. Address the CB position
Lack of skill in the defensive backfield once again came back to bite the Pats in the butt in their loss to the Ravens. When Aquib Talib was injured in the first quarter, the Pats secondary could not cover anybody and Joe Flacco threw three second half touchdowns. The Pats need some quality DB’s if they want to get back to the Super Bowl. I think it is a necessity for the Pats to resign Aquib Talib and then acquire some young talent through the draft. Talib can be a lockdown corner that allows the Pats to play a lot more man coverage and dial up some blitzes on the quarterback. A tandem of Talib and Alfonzo Dennard at the CB position is a very good start for the Pats. Keeping Devin McCourty at the safety position really helps limit the big plays. However, I think a change needs to be made at the other safety position with Steve Gregory. Gregory really struggled in the run game and covering one on one. Maybe the Pats should draft a safety or go after somebody like Jairus Byrd in free agency to help shore up that position. The Pats main weakness as a team is the secondary, and if they could fix that, a run to the Super Bowl gets that much easier.
3. Offensive Line
Throughout the season when we preview the Pats games, protecting Brady is always a key to winning the game. This year the offensive line did a great job of protecting Brady, finishing tied for 4th in the league in fewest sacks allowed. They will need to do that again next year to make a Super Bowl run. Resigning right tackle Sebastian Vollmer should be a major point of emphasis if they want to protect Brady at the level they did this year. Vollmer is maybe the most underrated tackles in the NFL; he battled through back injuries this year to produce a very solid year. He went up against some of the premier pass rushers in the league and held his own. If Vollmer is brought back the Pats have a very solid offensive line for the upcoming season. One other thing they should try and do is draft some depth to go behind their starting tackles in the event Vollmer is not resigned or if Nate Solder suffers an injury during the season. This would really help the Pats O line in protecting Brady, as the inside is pretty solid with Mankins, Connolly, and Wendell. No matter what weapons Brady has, the offense stalls without good protection, which is why the Pats O line must remain intact for next season.
4. Vertical Receiving Threat
The one weakness the Pats offense had in 2011 was the downfield receiving threat outside the numbers. So, they went out and got Brandon Lloyd this offseason, and I thought it was a great move. A lot of people thought he had a bad year, but I thought he had a pretty solid campaign. Sure, he was inconsistent at times, but he made a number of plays outside the numbers to help take some pressure away from the inside passing game. But in the loss to the Ravens, he did not make enough plays when the middle of the field was shut down. It was not entirely his fault, but the main reason the Pats offense stalled was because he was the only guy that could go outside the numbers. To make this offense better they need another vertical threat to go along with Lloyd. The draft is one option they can use to find some young talent that can make some impacts and learn alongside veterans at the same time. They can also go the free agent route (Dwayne Bowe?) to help out Lloyd on the outside. Bottom line is, the Pats have a great offense but they still need another threat to “take the top off of a defense”.
5. Young Players Improving
The Pats have a multitude of young guys on their team, particularly on defense. They are good players that helped improve the defense from last year. To continue to improve that defense, they will need to improve as players for next year. Alfonzo Dennard was the most impressive rookie in my opinion. In the Ravens game he stepped up when Talib went out of the game and he nearly shut down Torrey Smith. He has great technique and is incredibly tough and aggressive which makes up in part for his small frame. If he continues to work and improve he will be a great cornerback in the NFL. Dont’a Hightower and Chandler Jones were both 1st round draft picks and made impacts immediately. Chandler Jones was on his way to winning the defensive rookie of the year award when he injured his ankle in a regular season game against the Colts. He was never really the same after that, and he only played 2 snaps in the AFC championship game. Dont’a Hightower is a big physical linebacker who is great against the run but needs to improve his coverage skills. He is cut from the same mold as the Pats other two linebackers, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. They are big guys who are great against the run but vulnerable in coverage. Hightower will need to improve that aspect of his game to help out the Pats pass defense in the future.
Those are the five main priority’s for the Pats this offseason in my opinion. If they do these things they will be right back in the middle of the Super Bowl conversation.