Dec 1, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) spikes the football after a touchdown reception in the first quarter against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots: What Must Be Done To Return To The Big Game

January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Dan Connolly (63) against the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots were one game away from getting obliterated by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl this year, so they aren’t far from a return to the big game. Here are the three things that they have to do, if they want to get back to the big game.

1. Get Healthy

This is easily the most important thing New England has to do. The injuries they sustained last season were ridiculous, and it cost them a shot at another Super Bowl title. Getting into the AFC Championship game was a miracle, and it is a testament to how good Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really are. Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Rob Gronkowski, and Sebastian Vollmer were all placed on IR for most of the 2013 season, and the Patriots will need them back for next year. Wilfork, Kelly, and Mayo anchor what would have been a solid front seven, and Gronkowski and Vollmer instantly elevate Tom Brady’s offense to one of the best units in the league. If all five of these guys can stay healthy next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this group in Super Bowl 49.

2. Upgrade The Interior Of The Offensive Line

Protecting Brady is the most important thing the Pats have to do week in and week out, and a bad offensive line didn’t accomplish this task for the majority of the 2013 season. Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, and Logan Mankins were all pretty good, but Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly had a bad year. Wendell is a free agent, and I think it is time to find his replacement. He had a good 2012 campaign, but really fell off for 2013, and it cost the Patriots at critical times this year. Connolly is still signed for next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him demoted to second string, or simply cut from the team. Like Wendell, he struggled mightily all year long, and Belichick and company should try to replace him this offseason.

Here are a few stats to illustrate how bad this group was in 2013:

(According to Advanced NFL Stats)

*This includes the playoffs

Ranked 25th in OL-WPA, at -0.82 (Stands for ‘Win Probability Added’. It is the measure of a play’s outcome of the game, where the offensive line was involved.)

Ranked 26th in Run-WPA, at -0.60

Ranked 21st in Pass-WPA, at -0.22

Ranked 19th in QB hits (Brady was hit 74 times)

3. Re-Sign Talib, Go After Explosive Wideout, Or Tight End

When healthy, Aqib Talib is one of the best cover corners in the game. He has the ability to take away an opposing offense’s best receiver, and it makes the rest of New England defense much better. As soon as Wes Welker took out Talib in the second quarter of the AFC Championship, the Pats were pretty much done. Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, and Logan Ryan are all solid cornerbacks, but they don’t have the size, or talent of a Talib, and Peyton Manning tore them apart. New England’s secondary goes back to being average when Talib is out, which makes re-signing him a must.

The Pats should also look to add a wide receiver to the team, or an explosive tight end to pair with Rob Gronkowski. They have a lot of young talent at the receiver position, but they need someone that can take the top off of a defense, and win one on one matchups. I would like to see them target Emmanuel Sanders, because of his versatility, but pretty much anybody that has an element of explosion to their game would do. As for the tight end, we saw how important that position was to this offense this year, because when Gronkowski was out, Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola were doubled whenever they ventured towards the middle of the field, and it really bogged down Brady’s aerial attack. Getting someone like Jace Amaro out of the draft would not only give insurance to Gronkowski, but the combination of the two could bring the Pats back to offensive dominance in the NFL.

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Tags: Aqib Talib New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski

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