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New England Patriots Links 2/17/11 - Questions On Defense Still A Concern

Tim Graham analyzes whether the New England Patriots defense will remain a weakness in 2011.

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.

They sent four defensive players to the Pro Bowl: nose tackle Vince Wilfork, inside linebacker Jerod Mayo, cornerback Devin McCourty and safety Brandon Meriweather. Three of them were starters.

Not bad.

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.

The Patriots gave up 34 points to the Browns, 30 points to the Bills and 24 points each to the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals.

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.

Not only will the defense improve by being another year older and wiser, but they'll also be reinforced when defensive end Ty Warren and cornerback Leigh Bodden come back.

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."