Bill Belichick has referred to this time of year as the "team-building" portion of the football calendar. One of the goals is to assess the team, identify areas of improvement, and take steps to put the club in position to be better once games start.
To the surprise of few who watched the Patriots in 2010, one area of focus is the pass rush.
In breaking down the '10 Patriots, ESPN's Stats & Information notes the following revealing statistics:
Not a big blitzing team. The Patriots were the league's fourth most conservative defense when it came to blitzing last season. They rushed four or fewer defenders on 73.7 percent of dropbacks. Generating more pressure out of the standard four-man rush -- which is a priority for most teams -- should be high on Bill Belichick's offseason list. This is reflected in the Patriots registering sacks on only 3.7 percent of dropbacks with four or fewer pass rushers (tied-27th in NFL).
Blitz seldom helped matters. When the Patriots did blitz, sending five or more rushers, opposing quarterbacks weren't under enough consistent pressure. Quarterbacks completed 63.9 percent of their passes against the Patriots' blitz, ranking New England 31st in that category. Opponents' 43.2 percentage converting first downs against the blitz also ranked the Patriots 31st.
The 2011 draft is a situation where need meets opportunity for the Patriots. Most coaches and general managers at the NFL Combine last month agreed that the draft was deep along the defensive line and at outside linebacker for 3-4 teams. Those are the two spots where teams looking to improve the pass rush would look first.