New England Patriots:
2013 RECORD: 12-4
2012 RECORD: 12-4
2011 RECORD: 13-3
2010 RECORD: 14-2
TEAM OVERVIEW: New England has not won a Super Bowl since 2004. Except for the year Brady was hurt (and even that year was good) they’ve usually been the team to beat in the playoffs. Twice they lost to the NYG in the Super Bowl. Once they blew a big lead to Indy. The past two years a key injury to their only cover CB, Talib cost them a chance to make the final game. I am genuinely sorry that Talib was lost in these games, but have noted for years how the Pats needed to draft better cover talent. In fact, I have many a time documented how atrocious draft moves have prevented this team from winning at least three more Super Bowls! Stockpiling draft picks ruined their chance to add impact. Bonehead sleeper picks have prevented them from adding that one player who could have made a difference in many a close playoff/Super Bowl loss. Last year was their best year for their pass D since ’04, but that was partly due to facing 1st or 2nd year Divisional QB’s in 6 of 16 games. Instead of trading UP to get impact at CB and specifically WR they traded DOWN, missing out on one of the “super seven” WR’s in the ’13 draft. Even with this sometimes harsh critique of their draft tendencies, the Pats might still have been Super worthy if not for injuries to the top NT in the NFL (Wilfork) and an all-pro LB (Mayo). Once again New England will be a serious contender in ’14.
KEY STATS: Let’s start with turnovers, which were “just” +9 in ’13 and now +79 over their last 64 regular season games. This is incredible! NE seldom fumbles, as doing that gets you in Belichick’s doghouse, as RB Ridley fully knows. Offensively, the Pats were rebuilding their WR corps (with lower level draftees) yet still finished just one point behind the Bears and #3 in the NFL. They remained in the top 10 (9th) at 4.4-129 rushing the ball. The surprise was allowing 40 sacks, a number unheard of in the Brady era. Defensively, the Pats finally got that pass D% under 60% (57%) but are a different team without Talib. The run D clearly suffered without Wilfork, finishing 30th at 4.5-134. The total D was just 26th. The pass rush improved with 48 sacks (5th). The special team units were strong defensively. Spread-wise, New England remains 17-2 with same season Divisional revenge and also remained 39-15 as a Divisional road dog, although they did go 2-1 against the spread (ATS) as a dog in ’13.
2013 DRAFT REVIEW: Here we go again! New England was going to add picks, but why do it at 29? Minny gave up plenty to get there, but starting the draft at pick 52 meant that CB impact was not going to happen, and a top rated WR would not be available. In the end the Pats coveted Dobson, just as my Intel pointed out! They visited with him four times. Belichick also worked out LB Collins while in Mississippi on another matter. The Pats did double-dip at WR, DB and LB but blew adding impact at two of these spots, outsmarting themselves once again. Punter Allen was added after the draft and was solid and continues Belichick’s long history of only using left-footed punters. NOTE: Three additional rookies and two free agents helped in ’13. DT Chris Jones (6-198, rated 11th) was let go by Houston. He went 54-6 sacks! WR Thompkins was 32-466-4 but is best suited for a #3/4 role. * rated DT Vellano started 8 games, going 54-2 sacks. WR Amendola (54-11.7-2 in 12 games) and DT Tommy Kelly (just five games played, but 22-2.5 sacks) added occasional impact.
1-52, LB Collins: Scheme versatile, led CUSA in TFL. Not great in coverage but 43 rookie tackles.
2-59, WR Dobson: Great hands, tough guy with decent long speed. Savvy. 37-14.0-4 and can be big factor
3-83, CB Logan: Physical, but inconsistent. + special teams. Lacks ideal speed. 35-5 picks as rookie.
3-91, S Harmon: Best used closer to the line. 31-2 picks in a better than expected debut.
4-102, WR Boyce: Fast. Another savvy route runner. Average college production. 9 for 121 as a rookie.
7-226, DE Buchanan: Potential there for the agile DE, but not strong enough. 15 games, 9-2 stat line.
7-235, LB Beauharnais: Run stopper who is agile but slow and ball carriers can get by him. One rookie tackle.
2012 DRAFT REVISITED: They got the memo! Jones and Hightower have the position versatility NE craves. Both players have been as advertised. Yes, they were drafted in the 1st round! Jones went from 45-6 to 79-11.5 and is already a star. Hightower went from 60-4 to a team high 97 tackles (1 sack). NR Safety Wilson (3rd round, 48th overall selection) scared me with 41 tackles as a rookie but “validated” his lower rating in ’13 with just three tackles. DE Beguette has played in eight total games but recorded no stats in ’13. Nate Ebner is the token rugby special team player. CB Dennard was solidly rated but drafted lower due to off-field issues. These issues still exist but he has 75 career tackles and 4 picks. WR Ebert was cut in ’12.
TOP STRENGTH AND WEAKNESS PRIOR TO THE DRAFT: Tom Brady makes this New England offense work, even without a deep threat. Even though New England finally moved their pass D% under 60% this area is still the weak link, and with Talib out, it becomes a real sore spot.
FREE AGENCY ANALYSIS AND STAFF NOTES: As of March 30th. Ex-Panther WR LaFell is a steady target that could thrive here. Power RB Blount did not get a big offer to leave but he’s gone, leaving a void. CB Talib got a big offer from Denver and left, but New England recovered quickly to sign Revis to take his place, and later added good CB Browner, who first must serve out his suspension. LB Spikes will be missed as a run defender. Safety Gregory played up in the box as well and leaves a void.
2014 DRAFT NEEDS: Draft Needs as of March 30th. TE, safety, severe LB depth, DL, speed at WR, RB, 1 young OL. NE had success when they double-dipped early in a previous draft at TE and needs to grab one to go with oft-injured Gronkowski this year. Drafting lower rated safeties has not worked when the Pats face crunch time. They need someone with cover skill.
There’s an enormous void at LB behind the three projected starters. The DL has some age, and perhaps a big void if Wilfork gets his wish to be released. After failing to add true impact at WR in the ’13 draft the Pats must try again. If New England trusts RB Ridley not to fumble then replacing Blount is a lower level need. If they cannot trust him then the need to add backfield carries escalates. Adding a future starter along the OL should be strongly considered.