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The Patriots were awful in pass defense last year, and problems in that area are usually derived from two flaws. Either the defense struggles to get to the quarterback, so the passer has time to settle or the receivers have time to crack good coverage, or the backs can't keep up with receivers right from the snap.
The 2011 Patriots were above the league average in sacks, ranking 14th, and were 31st in passing yards allowed. The problem was all there, black and white, clear as crystal.
They simply couldn't cover.
Devin McCourty had a difficult time in his sophomore season, getting burned so often in man coverage that Bill Belichick had to try the first-rounder at safety. Kyle Arrington and Sterling Moore performed well, but a revolving door of Antwaun Molden, Phillip Adams and Nate Jones failed to click.
Though the Patriots were hampered badly by cornerback play last year, the position could actually be a strength as is. If McCourty returns to form or somewhere close to form, a McCourty-Arrington-Moore trio, with contributions from former second-round pick Ras-I Dowling, could be good enough going into next year.
Of course, that's a risky proposition. McCourty is by no means a safe bet, Dowling has battled injuries his whole career and Moore, clutch as he may have been this postseason, could simply be a flash in the pan.
When Arrington is the Ty Law of your hypothetical secondary, an upgrade doesn't hurt.
Cornerback will also be a deep position this year, with Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick and North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins among the highly-touted defensive backs in New England's trade-up range. The Patriots could also stay put and have a crack at players like Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), Jayron Hosley (Virginia Tech) and Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska).
The Patriots' cornerback situation isn't quite as bad as the No. 31 ranking suggests. Of course, when you are that low, you most likely need help anyway.