Monday, January 21, 2013
Five areas for Pats to focus on
By Field Yates
The football calendar never slows down, and it's already time to look ahead to the 2013 season for the Patriots. Turnover on the roster is sure to take place, and the team will take time this offseason to self-evaluate and address areas of need. Here are five places to start:
1. Vertical/perimeter passing game. A prevailing narrative entering the 2012 offseason was the Patriots' need to find a perimeter or vertical passing threat to take the top off of a defense. The hole was believed to be filled, at least in part, by wide receiver Brandon Lloyd. While Lloyd had a fine season, he is more of a possession/work the intermediate perimeter passing game receiver than he is a deep threat. His longest reception of the season was just 53 yards, and while the Patriots' offense was once again among the best in football, it struggled on Sunday when it was bottled up by a suffocating defense. A vertical presence who can strike quickly for an offense, similar to what Torrey Smith gives the Ravens, could go a long way.
2. Linebackers in pass coverage. The Patriots rounded out their starting trio of linebackers by adding Dont'a Hightower to Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes in the 2012 draft. The All-SEC group was stout versus the run this season, but pass coverage by linebackers proved to be an area where the Patriots' defense struggled. Both Spikes and Hightower have just average speed, and the Patriots were susceptible to backs out of the backfield as receivers. Whether it's by scheme or personnel, the Patriots' coverage on the second level has room for improvement.
3. Cornerback depth. The loss of cornerback Aqib Talib hurt on Sunday, and the Patriots will now have to decide whether they want to re-invest in him as he enters free agency this offseason. It would seem that there would be mutual interest, but if he does not return, it's clear the Patriots need to improve their cornerback depth. Kyle Arrington had struggles when pressed into top-two cornerback duties on Sunday, and while rookie Alfonzo Dennard showed strong promise, the Patriots need to add to the secondary. It wouldn't come as a surprise to see Devin McCourty remain at safety, but he could also platoon back to cornerback to improve depth.
4. Kickoff returns. The Patriots lacked a dynamic kickoff returner, and although McCourty did return one kickoff for a score this season, the team needs an upgrade. That could come from rookie Jeff Demps, an Olympic medalist who missed the season on injured reserve. As Trindon Holliday showed for the Broncos, there's room for a player who brings value to a roster only as a returner, and while we know very little about what Demps brings to the table, his speed is unquestionable. That could translate to him absorbing the returner role in 2013.
5. Another defensive tackle.Vince Wilfork anchored the Patriots' defense in 2012, and his spot on the defensive line is anchored down for the foreseeable future. But the Patriots could stand to add another big body in the middle of their defense, as they were down to just two active defensive tackles early in the AFC Championship Game after Kyle Love went out with a knee injury. The team parted ways with Jonathan Fanene before training camp concluded, and it's possible they'll explore another versatile lineman like Fanene this offseason. A running mate for Wilfork would help to improve the pass rush and run defense.