An early injury to Patriots' cornerback Aqib Talib magnified New England's lack of depth in the AFC Championship game Sunday night. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots on Paper: Duct Tape

In New England just about anything can be fixed with duct tape.  Temporarily.

The pervaisive attitude is such, and as time passes and the duct tape holds, the only time you think about it is when you happen past the patch job every now and then – and you think to yourself “Man, I gotta remember to fix that right”, yet there it sits, day after day, year after year until one day, when you really need it – well, it’s duct tape.

For eight years the New England Patriots have been using duct tape to fix what’s broken, and every year when they really need it to work – well, again, it’s duct tape.

Here’s a novel idea for the Patriots:  Why not try to fix it properly?

The offense has the athletes, but don’t make the plays in the big spots when they need to – poor clock management, dropped passes, underthrows, overthrows…and the highest scoring team in the NFL this season couldn’t finish enough drives to overcome Baltimore’s 28 points?  In the regular season, it was just a blip on the radar, but in the playoffs?

That’s all she wrote.

The offensive line is top shelf, excellent at both run blocking and pass protection.  Large dexterous bookend tackles, a perennial pro bowl left guard, a center that beat out the long time incumbent and a serviceable right guard.

The running backs, sudden and tough and good for a top 10 standing in the league.  Recievers?  How does the best slot reciever and two of the best tight ends in the NFL sound?  Quarterback?  Tom Brady – enough said.

The issue?  Too much emphisis placed on on Tight Ends.

Its the trend in the NFL, but we saw what happened when first Aaron Hernandez and then Rob Gronkowski went down with injuries.  Regardless of what Josh McDaniels says and regardless of what Bill Belichick says, the offensive game plan was designed to be Tight End-centric and the running game was used as duct tape to fit the bill until the Tight Ends were fixed – which never happened.

The solution?  Balance.  Equal emphisis on the running game and the passing game – so that when someone goes down, the load doesn’t fall on Tom Brady’s damaged, aging shoulders…Brady is often described as an accurate passer, and when things are going well, he is the best that’s ever been.  When he’s asked to do the impossible, he’s no Merlin….and that’s when the underthrows, overthrows and intentional grounding occur.

He’s not Superman – never has been.  He’s the vital cog that labors more and more as the other components fail and the staff keeps patching it with duct tape…and with the status of Wes Welker up in the air and with no reciever on the roster under the age of 30, an infusion of youth and speed is needed in the offseason, via the draft or free agency…

The defense has the athletes, but can’t make the plays in the big spots when they need to.  Ignoring the needs of the secondary in draft after draft, sometimes missing on a pick by trying to get too cute and taking too many chances on players that either have injury issues or are just plain marginal talents…

…call it the Tom Brady effect:  The Belichick administration has been recieving pass after pass for lucking out with selecting Brady with the 199th pick in a draft held many moons ago – but after missing with obscure defensive backs on an annual basis, that margin for error has evaporated, particularly now since the normally draft-pick loaded Patriots have a total of five picks in the upcoming draft, and none in rounds 4-6.

Belichick could do his normal wheeling and dealing, but maybe he should stay put with these picks and actually select the best players available in positions of need…which continues to be Safety and Cornerbacks, and has been annually since the glory years.

When Cornerback Aqib Talib went down in the second defensive series of the game against the Ravens on Sunday night, it was the beginning of the end for the Patriots…because he was their mid-season piece of duct tape for the secondary – which was a prudent and smart move, but still wasn’t enough to mask a lack of quality depth.

The safety play was awful more often than it was good, with the bright spot being converted corner Devin McCourty’s switch to safety when Talib arrived.  With McCourty, Talib and sensational rookie steal Alfonzo Dennard in house, there is a solid core of players in the secondary, so selecting a safety early and adding some depth through free agency seems prudent, as does resigning Talib.

The Patriots lucked into Dennard, make no mistake.  He slugged a cop for which he is going to trial for in the offseason, and for which 31 other teams passed on him several times before Belichick took a gamble on him in the 7th round…which really isn’t gambling at all – but the Nebraska product, who was a projected 1st to 2nd rounder pre-cop slug, teamed with Talib to give the Patriots a formidible corner tandem – so long as they stayed healthy.

The front seven are solid, and Belichcik did not miss when selecting team players such as Jones and Hightower last season, and Mayo and Spikes in seasons past.  Vince Wilfork remains one of Belichick’s best selections and anchors an excellent defensive line…

…but the Talib injury and the lack of quality depth in the secondary coupled with the struggles on offense has brought into focus what the Patriots need to accomplish this offseason, should they wish to make any sort of title run in 2013 and beyond.

Because the bottom line is when push came to shove in the big spotlight, the Patriots defense couldn’t and the Patriots’ offense just didn’t.

Yes, Baltimore’s defense is tough and physcial, but they are old and vulnerable – they allowed the Patriots to run the ball, allowed them to pass the ball, but often the team that musters the will and the strength to make the one big difference-making play on a drive to either extend or force it to stall will be the one that comes out on top ultimately.

The Ravens defense made the plays to stall drives, and the Patriots did not make the plays to extend them.  It’s as simple as that.

And why is that?  The Ravens draft well, are choosy in what free agents they bring in and don’t try to sugar coat their problems – while the Patriots fix their issues with stealth and duct tape.

These facts were presented for all of the world to see Sunday night – now what do the Patriots do about it?

Tags: Baltimore Ravens New England Patriots

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