via s9.postimage.org. Would you rather see better play in the rush, or the secondary?
I thought I'd start a series to look at some of the decisions facing the Patriots, and what they should do in the upcoming draft.
To do this I plan on laying out two competing philosophies, giving reasons for and against them, and then making my case at the end, and hopefully having some good interaction in the comments. We are running under the presumption that the 2013 team entering the draft will be the same as the 2012 team, because until we know how FA pans out, we'll stick with what we know.
So Draft Decision #1 - Should the Patriots prioritise their first pick on D to draft a pass rusher, or a player to play in coverage?
View 1: Moar Pass Rush Now! Mooaaaaarrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!
This view takes the commonly held principle, that the best way to improve your secondary is to reduce the time they need to cover, by putting the QB on his back more and by making him get rid of the ball quicker, and or keep extra players in to block. It also follows the philosophy, that once you have a franchise QB, the best way to build a team is through the trenches, given these guys have more chance to be difference makers, as they are clearly involved in every play, and harder to ignore.
In the Patriots case the team recorded only 37 sacks during the regular season, and three in the postseason, for a total of 40 sacks in 18 games for an average of 2.2 sacks a game, good for 15th in the league. Although in the final game against the Dolphins, we racked up seven sacks, a bit of an anomaly, probably due to Dolphin injuries, and it being a game with little to play for the Dolphins. Taking that game out, gives us 33 sacks in 17 games, for an average of 1.9 sacks a game. We can compare that to the 2011 season where we racked up 40 sacks in the regular season, and 11 in the postseason (including an extra game, that I do believe was cancelled). That gave us 51 sacks in 19 games, for a total of 2.7 sacks a game. An extra half sack per game compared to this season.
While there is more to a pass rush than sacks, they are the most easily available, and give a fair illustration of the effectiveness of our pass rush. It is worth taking into consideration too, that our secondary was better this year since the Talib acquisition, and we blitzed more, yet still struggled to replace Andre Carter and Mark Anderson's production.
We particularly lack in interior rush, and speed rush, and someone on the inside to disrupt the pocket, and someone that can get to the QB in three seconds, could give a real lift to the team. Also adding another guy, allows more rotation to keep guys fresh, and gives protection against injury.
So in conclusion we should go for a pass rusher with a first pick on defense, because it is a more important position, and it is a clear weakness on our team.
Where to begin? We spent our first pick on a pass rushing DE last year, and Chandler Jones has looked very good, and part of our sack drop off may be down to him suffering with injuries. Not to mention some good production we've gotten from UDFA Justin Francis, and we have a 3rd pick that led the SEC in sacks named Jake Bequette. We have already invested heavily in the position, and it would be a waste to do any more.
As for interior pressure, well we have UDFA Marcus Forston, who is battling back from injuries in college, where he was considered exceptionally gifted athletically. Not to mention we just signed Armond Armstead that everyone in the league wanted. We have lots of pieces there.
Also, answer me this question, what's the strength of the Patriots defense, front 7, or the secondary? If any one said secondary I'd be shocked. Upgrade the weakness not the strength.
So in conclusion, spend the picks were we are weakest, and haven't just splurged out.
View 2: Save our Snivelling Secondary!
What's the worst position on the team? Hands up for Safety; Thank you. Hands up for Cornerback; Thank you. Hands up for anywhere else. Err, I said hands. Common consensus would put the secondary as the worst spot on the team, with both safety and cornerback needing strengthened.
Steve Gregory has proved up and down, and really not starter quality for us, Tavon Wilson has yet to show he was worth the second round pick, and Ebner is most likely a career special teamer. The need for an upgrade beside McCourty seems clear. Then consider corner, Talib has character concerns, and picked up a couple of injuries with us, plus he wasn't exactly shut down material. Dennard was a great #2, but is currently on trial, with the possibility of jail time, and Arrington, although he can do a good job in the slot, no-one wants to see him blundering into WRs that have beat him on the sidelines ever again. Behind them we have some career special teamers and Ras-IR Dowling, who has failed to show both the talent to start regularly, and the ability to stay healthy for more than 100 snaps.
Then there is physicality, the Patriots don't have an enforcer in the secondary any more, someone who will come in and light someone up, and make them pay for going across the middle, make them hear foot steps. Even Rodney Harrison said so.
Conclusion; the biggest upgrade we could make is to improve the secondary, better coverage and bigger hits could make this defense feared again.
While it's undeniable that we need to strengthen the secondary, it is hard not to notice the long amount of time they had to cover while our pass rush was stonewalled. With the depth in this draft we could pick up a quality safety in the 3rd, and good prospects at corner in the second and third, as well as depth options later.
Also, one of the biggest problems facing the secondary was the lack of experience, with McCourty settling in full time at safety, and with Talib, we have some more experience and the chance of a more settled line up. Filling gaps with some more experience might be the best way to help improve the secondary.
Another problem was the lack of help in coverage that our linebackers provided, meaning that an easy outlet was usually available to the QB even when our secondary was blanketing their receivers.
Let's also consider just how much draft capital has been invested in the secondary over the last few years, and the lack of fruit that has provided. Not to say we abandon a position because of busts, but maybe it is time to spread the wealth around, and bolster other areas of the D to increase the chances that any future players we draft can perform well. Also, why don't we turn an improving rush from average to great, rather than make the secondary go from decent to good?
Conclusion; the secondary is better than we think, and could do with time together and experience, invest picks where we haven't done much over the last few years.
I think we should go with the pass rush first, as I think that can make the most difference to our defense. Our secondary is mainly young, with limited time spent playing in their current positions and together. Keep them together, add some more competition in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, and later, and look to add a difference maker to the D-line. I think our secondary is already reasonable, and should continue to improve, with extra stability, and an extra piece or two.
My preference would be to look for a JJ Watt / Justin Smith type, of 3-4 DE rusher, that could move inside on passing downs. Here is a link with Bucky Brooks looking at three players I am very keen on. My preference in order is Ezekiel Ansah (consider a small trade up), Margus Hunt (take him with our first, would like to trade down, but afraid the 49ers will nab him) and then Datone Jones (trade down, and take him in the 2nd). After that I am also interested in William Gholston (3rd round). I will fan post some scouting profiles on them and reasons I like them for the Patriots.
So what are your thought? And as someone else successfully asked, if you like the post, would you consider a rec? Thanks!