Pats need to improve their defense, absolutely. An impact edge player is ideal, perhaps another corner and another 3 down edge player.
Pats need to improve their Oline in at least 2 positions possible 3 or 4. Volmer is solid, Mankins if he comes back, which is a big if, is All Pro - the other 3 can really use upgrades.
To me the Pats most important change is in the offensive philosophy and design. Without adding any players in the draft, this team could still be playing if they had been willing to and focused on their running game.
There have been enough post here suggesting the Pats got beat up, out muscled or were not physical enough in their past 3 playoff games and the general agreement seems to be this lack of attitude aided in each defeat.
The running game can solve this, and help in many other ways, which I'll discuss after the jump.
Having a run first philosophy, or true balanced philosophy creates your identity, creates your physical persona and helps the team in multiple other ways :
1. Slows down the game for a QB who is frustrated by defensive coverages, allows the OC and team time to adjust routes, calls, etc.
-Since in the majority of games the Pats have lost since '07, Tommy has been "off" or "flustered" I see this as very improtant
2. Similarly allows the defense more time on the sideline to rest, study film and tendencies, be coached up.
- Considering the Pats fielded the youngest D in the league last year, this seems fairly important to me without even discussing the less time on the field = less plays given up by weak links side of this.
3. It prevents blitzing and aggressive pass rushes
- You run enough and the LBs and Ends need to honor their run commitments before they go after the QB.
4. It introduces extremely valuable play action options for TEs who are tremendous mismatches for defenses
- Similarly you draw LBs and possibly safeties closer to the line, you force CBs to play receivers in man and on the line vs back and in zone.
5. You dictate to the offense, you impose your will on them, and hit them back and push them off the line, wear them down or at least slow them down.
- This is the key one to me, if you want to be more physical in the playoffs, if you want to be the puncher vs the punched, you need to run the football and be dedicated to it.
Even if you spend the entire first half trying to run with limited success, you are wearing down the D and proving you are not giving up on it, you are keeping your playbook open and second half adjustments can come from anywhere. Just as the Jets came out vs the Steelers with an entirely different look, Pats could do the same and much, much more.
As much as I agree the D needs help and the Oline needs help - A shift in the offensive philosphy, greater dedication to the run will improve the team markedly without adding any players and really.
I do believe personnel @ RB and on the OL this year was part of the issue this year, and to that point if a certain RB is avail at #17, you take him absolutely.
Even in the likely event that does not happen at 17, adding a between the tackles type back later in the draft (Delone Carter, Daniel Thomas or John Clay) and some "angry" OLs will help this team tremendously on offense and defense