It is a melancholy object to those who watch the Patriots, when they see these other teams in black, gold, and green fighting for the Lombardi Trophy. Instead of seeing the Patriots at their rightful place at the top of the league, the NFL is forced to put the second tier teams in the spotlight; two teams the Red, Blue and Silver had defeated during the regular season. I think it is agreed by all parties that the recent struggle by the Patriots present a very great grievance; and, therefore, whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of bringing the Patriots back to the top of the league would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up for a preserver of the league and franchise.
As to my own part, having thought of this subject for a couple hours, and maturely weighed the several schemes of other projectors, I have found them to have overlooked an important variable. It is true that the Patriots could do well with an improved pass rush and it is also true that the team could benefit from an improved defensive line. However, one fact has been swept under the rug. With this fact, I propose that the Patriots use the majority of the early draft picks to select offensive players.
What is this fact? We all know that the Patriots have been regular season warriors. Their flaws have only become apparent in the post season. As a result, let's review the Patriots' most recent playoff games. Here are the scores from the past five playoff games:
Patriots 31 - Jaguars 20
Patriots 21 - Chargers 12
Giants 17 - Patriots 14
Ravens 33 - Patriots 14
Jets 28 - Patriots 21
What do we notice? The Patriots offense has not broken 21 points in their previous four games. The Patriots defense has done a pretty good job.
Wait a minute- the defense has done a good job? Yes.
Let's see why after the jump!
The Patriots held the Jaguars, the Chargers and the Giants to under 20 points. That should be a successful defensive game. Maybe the defense didn't come in the clutch against the Giants; that doesn't mean that there weren't 59 other minutes the offense wasn't producing. On the whole, the Patriots defense did a good job limiting points in the first three games. What about the Ravens and Jets games?
Out of the 8 touchdowns allowed in the previous two playoff exits, only 2 were for greater than 60 yards- and one of those was the huge one-play drive by Ray Rice. In fact, 5 of the touchdowns were for under 50 yards; that's under half of the field. Half of the touchdowns allowed were from under 40 yards. What does this mean? This means that the defense hasn't been given a fair chance. They've succeeded when given a long field to defend (only one multi-play drive of 53+ yards), but they struggle when they get on the field with their backs on the goal line.
Let's write down the touchdown drives:
TD #1: 1 play, 83 yards. Ray Rice's TD Run. First play of the game. Showed the Patriots need an upgrade at defensive end.
TD #2: 5 plays, 17 yards. Tom Brady is sacked and fumbles the ball. Ravens run the ball on five consecutive plays, into the end zone.
TD #3: 6 plays, 25 yards. Tom Brady threw an interception. Ravens ran towards the Patriots RDE (where they need an upgrade). Patriots down 21-0 by the end of the first quarter.
Ravens do not score another touchdown until the 4th quarter. That's some solid defense.
TD #4: 12 plays, 52 yards. Ravens return the ball 30 yards on the kick off. Joe Flacco was 2/3 for 25 yards (on Bodden and Butler), but the other 9 players were running plays- mostly against the same weak defensive end spot.
So what do we get from the Ravens game? The defense actually wasn't bad. They held the Ravens touchdownless for the 2nd and 3rd quarters. They allowed two touchdowns of under 25 yards. They even held an additional drive to a field goal that started on the 9 yard line. The Ravens had nine yards to score and the defense forced a field goal. Basically, the offense didn't really give the defense a fair chance in this game. Yes, the defense was at fault for the Ray Rice Run and they should have stopped the 52 yard drive, but only two touchdowns on drives of 50+ yards is pretty successful for a playoff defense.
My understanding from this early playoff exit: the Patriots needed an upgrade at defensive end, but it was the offense that struggled and led to the early demise.
TD #1: 5 plays, 49 yards. Patriots offense goes three and out, including a sack. Rookie Zoltan Mesko punts 38 yards from the 16 yard line. A poor offensive outing and resulting punt gives the Jets great field position. Mark Sanchez makes a running 37 yards throw to the sideline to Braylon Edwards to move the chains. Sanchez throws 4 times for 48 yards, but it was the running throw that moved the chains. It was a pretty unblockable/indefensible throw.
TD #2: 4 plays, 37 yards. Pat Chung fumbles on the fake punt. Good play call, terrible execution. LaDainian Tomlinson makes two solid runs, while Sanchez goes 1/2 with the completion for a touchdown. Braylon Edwards drags Devin McCourty and Brandon Meriweather into the end zone.
The Patriots defense held the Jets to 14 points through three quarters. That's great defense. Where's the offense?
TD #3: 5 plays, 75 yards. Jerricho Cotchery runs for larges YAC on a 58 reception. Cotchery was in the middle of the field, between Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes. No defensive back was covering him. That wasn't a due to poor personnel, but a result of a poor play call. Santonio Holmes catches a once-in-a-lifetime touchdown (except for Holmes. That's just a regular reception for Holmes) in the back corner of the end zone.
TD #4: 2 plays, 20 yards. Jets great great field position from an onside kick. Shonn Greene takes two runs for 20 yards and into the end zone. Poor execution by the defense, extremely short yardage. The team had given up since the Jets were in field goal position, which would make it a two score game with under 90 seconds to go.
My understanding from this early playoff exit: The team gave up, which was pretty visible while watching from the couch. Brady was frustrated that the offense wasn't functioning and the defense was doing all that it could. The defense played extremely well, but they were beat on a couple impossible-to-defend plays.
So what am I trying to say? I believe that the defense has been doing a great job. It's the offense that hasn't been functioning when the playoffs come around. When a team that averages over 30 points/game is unable to put more than 21 points on the board in the playoffs, then something must be changed with the offense. What about the defense, you say? When a defense that averages under 20 points/game allows over 20 points in the playoffs, shouldn't the defense be changed as well?
In 2007, the Patriots defense was pretty consistent in the playoffs with how they produced in the playoffs; but in 2009 and 2010, the Patriots defense allowed around 18 and 19 points per game- and they allowed 33 and 28 points in the playoffs. My thought? Poor offensive execution. The Ravens scored 20 points on turnovers, starting all four scoring drives within the 25 yard line. The defense forced two field goals, despite the terrible field position. I don't think the defense should be at fault for the 33 points against the Ravens.
This past month against the Jets, the defense allowed two touchdowns of under 40 yards- one from a poorly executed fake punt and another from a poorly executed onside kick. The Jets made a couple of great plays to score, but the Patriots offense clearly did not produce. Is that because the Jets defense was so good, or because the Patriots poorly executed? My thought: It doesn't matter. The offense needs to produce, whether by scheme or superior talent.
The defense held the Jets to 14 points through three quarters. The offense never capitalized. The defense did not allow the Ravens to score a touchdown in the second and third quarter. The offense couldn't catch up.
What can the Patriots do? Let's throw away the old mocks. Yes, I'm still in full support of my old mocks. I'd be extremely happy with those drafts. However, let's think like Belichick. The defense has actually played very well, given their youth. When they had the experience in 2009, they put up solid overall numbers, but they suffered in the clutch. In 2010, with all the youth, they put up terrible numbers, but they always found a way to win. Combine the youth with the returning experience? We could be looking at a special defense.
Think of the draft. Who are the top prospects? AJ Green. Nick Fairley. Von Miller. Da'Quan Bowers. Patrick Peterson. Prince Amukamara. Marcell Dareus. Robert Quinn. Cameron Jordan. Blaine Gabbert. That's the basic top ten. Notice anything? Eight of the top ten are defensive players. In a draft that's so overloaded with defensive talent, you can expect some teams to snatch up all the defensive talent. When the defensive talent gets drafted, then there will be runs in the position (ie: Once Cameron Jordan is selected, don't be surprised if the next defensive ends come quickly off the board). What happens if there are runs on defensive positions? Top offensive players will drop down. They'll present exceptional value. Keeping this in mind, here's an alternate mock draft.
17. Anthony Castonzo, Tackle, Boston College. Castonzo has the most upside of any tackle outside of Nate Solder. He's also one of the most NFL ready. He can play both left tackle and right tackle and he's exceptionally smart. He needs to gain some more weight, but that's to be expected- that's the only real knock against him. He's shown growth during his time as a four-year starter in an offensive lineman factory and can grow even further. Solid book-end across from Sebastian Vollmer to give the Patriots one of the best tackle combinations in the league.
28. Mike Pouncey, Guard, Florida. Pouncey spent his senior year out of position at center, but he should shift back to guard when he's with the Patriots. He has a nasty streak and excels at both pass and run blocking. He can pull block and has a quick first snap. He can play both right and left guard and, if need be, center. He is an immediate starter and upgrade over every interior lineman on the roster.
33. Mikel Leshoure, Running Back, Illinois. What do the Steelers, Jets and Ravens all have in common? A consistent running game. Leshoure has the potential to be the next Rashard Mendenhall and, if used in conjunction with Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, could be the next great running back. BJGE could give Leshoure breathers and Woody could be the change of pace running back. Leshoure can run hard, he can catch and he can block. This trio could be an elite group.
60. Rodney Hudson, Center/Guard, Florida State. Hudson moves to center. At 6-2, 290, Hudson has the same size as Ryan Wendell, but I don't know if Hudson could survive against some of the largest defensive linemen. He has impeccable technique and plays larger than he actually is, but can he sustain that at the NFL level? He would struggle run blocking against bigger linemen, but would excel as the "helping blocker" or the "pull blocker" coming from center. He has practiced at center and has shown the intelligence to thrive.
74. Titus Young, Wide Receiver, Boise State. The Patriots need a field spreader with reliable hands. Young has the potential to be the Patriots' Mike Wallace because of his great downfield speed and his ability to get separation from defenders. Young has a personal best of 4.35 in the 40 yard dash and is looking to improve his speed. He has great hands and runs great routes and could be an impact player on offense.
92. Jarvis Jenkins, Defensive End/Tackle, Clemson. Fine, I'll give the Patriots a defensive player. At the end of the third round, the 6-4, 310 lbs Jenkins has the prototypical 3-4 defensive end size. He can hold the point of attack against double teams and is able to disengage and stop the run. While he's not a sack threat, he allows the others around him to make plays- ie: Da'Quan Bowers this past season, Ricky Sapp the prior year. He makes the players around him better and should definitely open up lanes for Jermaine Cunningham and Eric Moore to reach the quarterback.
I can think of no one objection that will be raised against this proposal, unless there are still concerns about the defense. After all, I am not so violently bent upon my opinion as to reject any offer proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally cheap, easy and effectual. I profess, in the sincerity of my heart, that I have not the least personal interest in endeavoring to promote this necessary work, having no other motive than the success of the New England Patriots by increasing our talent, and giving some pleasure to our readers.