New England Football: 4 Things the Patriots Must Do to Win Another Super Bowl
Since 2004, the New England Patriots have maintained elite status each year.
The Patriots were 18-0 until Super Bowl XLII against the Giants in the 2007-2008 season. Then they lost to the Giants again last season in Super Bowl XLVI.
This season, with the New York Giants out of the picture, the table was set. Brady had a clear route to a fourth Super Bowl title, tying the great Joe Montana.
On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens rolled into Gillette Stadium and upset the mighty Patriots.
With yet another season of disappointment in the books, the Patriots need to get over the hump and pick up a fourth ring in the Belichick-Brady era.
Here are the four things the Patriots must do to win a Super Bowl next season.
1. Sign Wes Welker
If there is any player who fits into the Patriots offensive system, then it is wide receiver Wes Welker.
Welker is to Brady as butter is to bread. They need each other.
In five of Welker's six seasons with the Patriots, he has put up at least 110 receptions and over 1,100 yards in each season except for 2010 in which he tore his ACL at the end of the year.
Even though Welker is 31 years old and football productivity out of a wide receiver of his age is bound to decline, the Patriots need Welker back.
Brady and the Patriots offense thrive with the short, quick, slot receiver passing game, and Welker is the lone receiver who can undertake that workload in the NFL.
Welker is Brady's go-to third-down target with 43 targets on third down this season. Brandon Lloyd was No. 2 on third down targets with just 24.
The Patriots cannot let Welker get away.
Welker may be 5'9" and one of the smallest players on the field, but he is far too valuable to this offense.
2. Find an Impact Player for the Secondary
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The last two seasons have been struggles for the Patriots in their pass defense.
While they improved defensively from their Super Bowl appearance last year against the Giants, the Patriots secondary still has its woes.
The Patriots pass defense ranked 29th this season, allowing an average of 271.4 yards per game.
The defense also allowed the most passing plays of 20-plus yards with 74.
After the signing of cornerback Aqib Talib and the shift of Devin McCourty from cornerback to safety, the Patriots passing defense did improve.
Yet, Talib's status as a free agent is in question. According to Christopher Price of WEEI, it is "hard to see a scenario where Aqib Talib sticks around".
Whether or not the Patriots lose Talib, they need a lockdown impact corner who can provide depth to the pass defense. An impact corner allows Belichick to deepen his depth chart and slide Alfonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington off of opposing teams' top receivers.
The improvements under Talib show what talent can do for the Patriots secondary.
The Patriots front office needs to go out and acquire a lockdown cornerback via free agency or trade because the NFL Draft lacks impact corners.
3. Improve the Pass Rush
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The Patriots have not had an elite pass-rusher since they traded away defensive end Richard Seymour.
Each season, the Patriots have had an average pass rush. They ranked 15th in sacks this season with 37.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich is the closest that the Patriots have to a strong pass-rusher. He led the team with eight sacks, which is hardly enough to be considered an elite pass-rusher.
Realistically, Ninkovich is a solid supporting pass-rusher.
Rookie defensive end Chandler Jones was pressuring quarterbacks at an impressive rate until an ankle injury compromised his play for the rest of the season. Jones registered six sacks in his first eight games, but put up zero sacks after a great start.
Jones's potential is there and his health will determine whether he becomes an elite pass-rusher. But the Patriots need an elite pass-rusher now.
By adding one elite pass-rusher, the Patriots can form a supporting cast around their star pass-rusher.
Ninkovich, Jones and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham can power a strong pass rush when the elite pass-rusher garners the opposing offensive line's attention.
All of these players and the Patriots will benefit from picking up an elite defensive end or outside linebacker pass-rusher.
4. Most Importantly, Stay Healthy
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The New England Patriots really have a star-studded team capable of ending their eight-year Super Bowl drought.
Any offense with Tom Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and a newly found ground game with Stevan Ridley will contend for a Super Bowl.
The defense has its issues, but it is one or two players away from reaching a whole new level.
Belichick has formed a powerhouse football team that has been plagued by the injury bug this season.
The loss of superstar tight end Rob Gronkowski led to the Patriots losing the ability to run their signature, deadly two tight end formations.
The Patriots also lost utility man Julian Edelman who impacted the game on offense, special teams and even defense. Edelman is one of the most versatile players in the league. His loss really hurt the Patriots' mulch-dimensionally, arguably more than people may realize.
On top of losing two important offensive players, both running backs, Danny Woodhead and Stevan Ridley, sustained injuries in the playoffs. They also were without Chandler Jones, safety Patrick Chung, guard Logan Mankins, defensive tackle Kyle Love and suspended linebacker Jermaine Cunningham for various parts of the season.
Injuries are a part of football and teams must overcome them during a grueling run deep into the playoffs. But, the Patriots caught an injury bug that took out a lot of their key players.
So long as the Patriots stay healthy, which is easier said than done, they will have a chance at winning a Super Bowl next season.