After a devastating defeat in Super Bowl XVI, the Patriots seem like the kind of team that can return to the promised land, as long as Tom Brady stays healthy. After spending the last two off-seasons developing their offensive line and pass protection by drafting two tight ends and an offensive tackle, where do the Patriots go from here to get over the hump?
Although they played solid as the season wore down, including in the Super Bowl, this defense certainly needs more than a few pieces. Getting a slot corner is clearly one of their biggest needs, as they resorted to playing Julian Edleman later in the season at the position.
When James Ihedigbo, a Jet outcast, is your best safety when Patrick Chung was hurt, you clearly have issues there as well. The Pats have up a ton of big plays this season, and that is a direct result of their play in the back end.
Of course, this secondary would nat have taken so much heat if they were better at rushing the passer. Andre Carter has a nice season, but when he went down, only Mark Andersen was able to generate any kind of pass rush.
First, however, the Patriots need to decide what kind of player they want on the edge. Will they continue their trend of useing more 4-3 looks? Or will they revert back to their 3-4 style? Once they make that declaration, it will make their task in finding pass rushers that much easier. This draft features a few more 4-3 rushers than 3-4 linebackers, which may have an impact on which direction the Patriots decide to go in.
The Patriots are certainly a potent offense, but they are not explosive. They generate few big plays and utilize a horizontal passing game that is heavily reliant on their tight ends and slot receivers making yards after the catch, and it hurt them in the final drive of the Super Bowl. Since trading Randy Moss, they Pats have lacked a deep threat to stretch defenses.
If the Patriots can add a big-play wide receiver, whether it is through the draft or by signing a Vincent Jackson or DeSean Jackson, it would make this offense almost unstoppable.
If BenJarvus Green-Ellis leaves via free agency, the Patriots may find themselves needing a running back. Danny Woodhead is a good third down back and Stevan Ridley showed some promise as a rookie, but none of those guys put any kind of fear in the defense. Adding a dynamic runner would give them a backfield presence they have lacked since the days of Corey Dillon.
Overall, the Patriots really don't have a ton of needs, but their needs are glaring and showed up in the Super Bowl. If Bill Belichick can fill just a few of them, particularly on defense, this offseason, the Patriots are going to be favorites to reach the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.