Week by week, the Patriots' defense evolved into a commendable unit. In four of their last five regular-season games, they allowed 20 combined points. Two of those opponents were playoff teams.
The numbers tell a different story. The Patriots ranked eighth in points allowed, but 25th in yards allowed, 11th in run defense and 30th in pass defense. The Patriots were dead last in third-down efficiency. They let opponents move the chains 47 percent of the time. They improved over the final few games, but in December they were on track to record the fifth-worst defense on third down since the NFL-AFL merger.
Bill Belichick's defense can improve simply with another year of experience and the return of a couple of key contributors who missed 2010 with injuries.
The Patriots were young on defense. They started four rookies a couple of times. Their top secondary -- cornerbacks McCourty and Kyle Arrington, safeties Meriweather and Patrick Chung -- went into the season with four combined NFL seasons.
Hip surgery wiped out Warren's season. Warren was a fixture at left end and forced the Patriots to juggle their line continually. A shoulder injury sidelined Bodden, and while McCourty emerged as a Pro Bowler, Bodden's presence over undrafted sophomore Arrington would have given the Patriots a much more formidable secondary.
New England's obvious need is a pass-rusher. With two draft choices in each of the first two rounds and the wherewithal to lure a free agent, there are plenty of reasons to expect New England's defense to upgrade in 2011.
Shalise Manza Young reports Stephen Gostkowski took a break from the rehab on his right quad today to brighten the day of quite a few youngsters at Children's Hospital in Boston.
“I got the opportunity to come up here and I didn’t hesitate to do it,” said Gostkowski, who has a 14-month-old son, Slayden, with wife Hallie. “Anytime I can come up to a hospital with kids involved and brighten their day, I’m up for it any day of the week. It’s something I’m passionate about…Just to have this jersey on and to put a couple smiles on kid’s faces that haven’t smiled in a while is very rewarding and brings meaning to what you can do with your status as an athlete in this area."
- Andy Hart reports on the great unknown of this offseason, with the futures for NFL players and coaches very much up in the air.
- Patriots Today - Best of 2010: Takeaway. (4.36 min. video)
- Greg A. Bedard reports on the progress made by Stephen Gostkowski as he rehabs his leg back to playing shape.
- Karen Guregian notes Rob Gronkowski was showing his charitable side as one of the live auction items in support of the Greg Hill Foundation, which helps families in desperate need.
- Shalise Manza Young offers her impressions of a low-key Devin McCourty as he addressed 150 fans at the Patriots Hall of Fame Tuesday evening.
- Mike Reiss sees the Patriots need at wide receiver as an interesting topic to debate, especially after the offense that was firing on all cylinders fizzled in the playoff loss to the Jets.
- WEEI scouts out potential Patriots: CB Brandon Harris (Miami).
- Mike Rodak focuses on who would be a free-agent fit for the Patriots at each position: Center/Guard.
- Jeff Howe searches out some free-agent possibilities and thinks Tom Zbikowski and Dawan Landry would add reliability and depth to the Patrots' secondary.
- Tom E. Curran notes Randy Moss has become a man with few options.
- Tom E. Curran offers us an idiot's guide to the NFL's CBA.
- Shalise Manza Young answers her Patriots mailbag.
- Tim Graham (ESPN) Leading questions: AFC East.
- Tony Pauline (SI) 2011 NFL Draft: Ranking top 50 prospects heading into Combine.
- Michael Lombardi (NFL.com) Teams' biggest challenge is keeping Combine in perspective.
- Bucky Brooks (NFL.com) Combine offers pass-catching prospects a chance to separate.
- Wes Bunting (Nat'l Football Post) Five junior prospects that need to stand out at the Combine.
- Greg Gabriel (Nat'l Football Post) Scouting Running Backs: Breaking down the traits of a good prospect.
- Vinnie Iyer (Sporting News) Waiting game: Patience pays when searching for a running back.
- Evan Silva (ProFootballTalk) 2011 Mock Draft: Take 1 - Pats select DE J.J. Watt (Wisconsin) at 17, and WR Jonathan Baldwin (Pittsburgh) at 28.
- The Scouting Dept. (Nat'l Football Post) The NFP Big Board.
- Daniel Kaplan (Sports Business Journal) NFL gives EA a break: Fees reduced next season, year added to deal.
- Cam Inman (Oakland Tribune) Oakland Raiders' Richard Seymour is pricey -- and worth it.
- If Cromartie hits the market, does he have value? (Nat'l Football Post)
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) Three CBA problems, three proposed solutions.
- Andrew Brandt (Nat'l Football Post) NFL labor pains, part 10: An issue of trust.
- Toni Monkovic (NY Times) In NFL labor dispute, remember the little guy.
- Dan Graziano (NFL Fanhouse) NFLPA could deal directly with sponsors in event of lockout.
- John Branch (NY Times) Fan advocacy group, The Sports Fans Coalition, wants to witness negotiations.