Dec 2, 2012; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline (82) catches a pass against New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) in the second quarter at Sun Life Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Dolphins 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Potentially Patriots: Part One - The Scheme

Bill Belichick is insane.

Right?  He must be, because didn’t Albert Einstein define insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different  results each time?

And wasn’t it Bill Belichick that began the 2012 season attempting to win it all with talent across the board, everywhere but in the secondary which had been an albatross for him since his last NFL Title in 2004?  That’s 8 years of trying to get by with a patchwork secondary and, not coincidentally, eight years of falling short despite having arguably the best team overall in the National Football League during that period.

Not to mention the lack of quality depth, because if you’re trying to hold things together with duct tape and prayers, it goes to figure that any depth that you had was already in the mix.

Those things being said and documented, what assurances do Patriots’ fans have that 2013 is going to be any different?  Has Dollar Bill learned from his tribulations and about to break the cycle of protracted insanity?

On paper, the tandem of Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard is potentially one of the better sets of cornerbacks in the AFC, and with athletic free safety Devin McCourty patrolling on the back side and new strong safety Adrian Wilson enforcing things inside the box, the Patriots secondary is no longer considered a liability.

How this came about isn’t as important as why.

When 2012 season began, the Patriots secondary was a place where even bad receivers went to pad their stats.  McCourty looked increasingly like a fish out of water at left corner while the promising 2011 campaign of Kyle Arrington disintegrated right before our eyes into a comedy of errors…

…the safeties were a combination of hard-hitter-but-not-much-else Patrick Chung and newcomer Steve Gregory – who wanted to be a hard hitter but, being more of a free safety, bounced off tight ends and receivers like a pinball hitting a bumper.  Rookies Dennard and Tavon Wilson impressed enough in camp to earn roster spots, but were relegated to back up roles.

Injuries then forced Belichick’s hand.  He entered the season with the hopes that 2nd year man Ras-I Dowling would step forward and grasp a starting role opposite McCourty after a hip injury robbed him of his rookie season and Safety Steve Gregory was signed from San Diego, Belichick lauding his football smarts…

…but Dowling hit the skids with another season-ending injury and Gregory, along with strong safety Patrick Chung missed significant time toward the middle of the campaign, forcing the team into the 2011 style plug and play mode, which was a miserable failure in 2012 because there was no Sterling Moore and his Johnny-on-the-spot routine to bail Belichick out this time.

Bill Belichick missed on this one badly – but even he had to be in shock at how things turned south so quickly.

He got lucky with Moore and the rest in 2011, and perhaps if they hadn’t – perhaps if they had gotten stomped in the AFC Championship game, perhaps if Moore hadn’t ripped the ball out of Lee Evans’ hands in the end zone and perhaps had Billy Cundiff not pulled his tying field goal attempt wide left in the final seconds…

…yes, perhaps if those things had not happened the Patriots would have addressed the issues in the secondary last offseason.  The coaching job on defense in 2011 was so masterful that perhaps arrogance got in the way of logic, and what had previously worked for New England suddenly wasn’t working any longer – and it left the Patriots scrambling to make deals to shore up the secondary at the trade deadline.

But bringing in Talib only masked the bigger problem – and that came to the forefront in the AFC Championship game when he went down with the leg injury and Joe Flacco started picking on Talib’s replacement…who was no Sterling Moore.

Make no mistake: Two years in a row, the Patriots have missed out on a chance for their 4th and 5th Lombardi Trophies simply because they had no quality depth to replace their injured starters.

No, it wasn’t Wes Welker dropping balls, though that certainly didn’t help.  It was Rob Gronkowski being injured and either a shell of himself or out all together.  It was Aqib Talib leaving the AFC Championship game with a thigh injury – and with no quality depth behind either, New England lost players that the scheme absolutely depended on, and they took two heartbreaking defeats.

Heartbreaking because the Patriots were better than the teams they lost to – but their reliance on bit and role players to get them through with spot duty failed in the spotlight.  Why?  Simply because those teams took advantage of the Patriots lack of depth.

It would be difficult to fathom that Bill Belichick doesn’t recognize this trend, and even more difficult to imagine that he would leave these units’ efficiency to chance for a third consecutive year by approaching this year as another “Plug and Play” year.

Third time a charm?  The way that the Patriots are treating free agency leading up to the draft, it appears that the man who runs the show isn’t leaving anything to chance this time around.

The re-signing of Talib was key, and with the addition of Wilson gives the Patriots starting lineup the look of a championship caliber defense, and now that Belichick has set the core of the defense, he has put himself in a position to put the defense over the top by bringing in quality depth at all three levels…

…which puts him in the enviable position to enter the 2013 draft with the ability to use his limited number of picks to obtain the best value, selecting the best available athlete at positions of need -instead of coming in focused on absolutely having to be on target with his picks, he can look at the pool of talent available, consult his big board and let the process be his guide.

The result of which should be quality depth and perhaps even a starter or two coming out of camp.

But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.  To do the Patriots offseason properly, we must first identify the areas of need, assemble the list of options and sit back to watch what falls into the Patriots’ laps….

…which is what we will be doing for the next week.  In this seven part series, we will break down the roster, evaluate talent and determine depth needs with less than a month left until the 2013 NFL Draft, starting on Tuesday with the offensive line, then the defensive line on Wednesday, Linebackers on Thursday, the backfield on Friday, the secondary on Saturday and the receiving corps on Sunday.

Our goal is to be prepared for the draft, and we hope you will be along for the ride.

Tags: Adrian Wilson Alfonzo Dennard Aqib Talib Buffalo Bills Devin McCourty Miami Dolphins New England Patriots New York Jets

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