Eight seasons have passed since the New England Patriots last hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, and that is in large part due to a shaky defense—to put it lightly.
As Chris Gasper of The Boston Globe reminds us, "The Patriots have ranked 30th, 31st, and 29th in pass defense the last three seasons." Their overall defensive rankings of 25th, 31st and 25th over the last three seasons aren't much better.
Whether it was letting Eli Manning pass down the field in the closing minutes of Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, or Joe Flacco having all day to throw wherever he wanted to in the 2012 AFC Championship game—whichever nightmare you want to recall—the common thread is that the defense hasn't been of championship caliber.
Things need to change.
Attitude Adjustment in the Secondary
Between Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo, the Patriots probably have enough ill-tempered guys in the front of their defense, but more are needed in the back end.
Even if Aqib Talib—who provided some much-needed grit to a rather timid secondary—re-signs, the Patriots still need more tough guys back there.
Rodney Harrison. Ty Law. Lawyer Milloy. Otis Smith.
Those were some of the meanest defensive backs in the league and they all played a part in bringing three championships to Boston.
These guys kept quarterbacks up at night.
While a guy like Devin McCourty looks like he has the chance to be a special talent at free safety going forward, I'm not sure the soft-spoken defender strikes fear into the hearts of quarterbacks and receivers.
How to Fix It:
Help is already on its way.
As Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston reports, the Patriots have signed veteran safety Adrian Wilson.
The former Arizona Cardinal plays with a lot of energy and intensity.
Re-signing Talib should be the next order of business. The secondary played with more confidence when he was on the field, as his tough demeanor seemed to rub off on his teammates.
(UPDATE: Talib has re-signed with the Patriots on a one-year deal per Field Yates of ESPNBoston)
Physicality and Size Upgrade
When Talib went down in the AFC title game against the Ravens, the Patriots didn't have a single defensive back over 5'11" on the field for substantial snaps.
That is ridiculous.
Anquan Boldin went to town on the Patriots' secondary and, well, you saw what happened.
The Pats need to get bigger in the defensive backfield so they can deal with the big wide receivers and tight ends that overpopulate the league.
How to Fix It:
Plain and simple, the Pats need big and talented defensive backs.
Wilson is a big safety (6'3", 230 lbs) that has been named All-Pro multiple times and can really lay the wood on receivers across the middle. He should provide a hefty upgrade.
But it can't stop there.
The Patriots would be wise to continue their size upgrade through free agency, where there are still many proven cornerbacks with good size available in free agency like Nnamdi Asomugha (6'2'') and Quentin Jammer (6'0'').
New England's defense certainly has leaders in captains Wilfork, Mayo and McCourty, but at times it seems that they are missing the fire that guys like Tedy Bruschi and Willie McGinest had.
How refreshing would it be to see Wilfork smack Chandler Jones upside the head to get him going, or to watch McCourty bark in Tavon Wilson's face for missing his assignment?
We just don't see enough of that.
Sometimes a little push is all a young guy needs to get him playing his best.
You saw how well a struggling Baltimore defense played after Ray Lewis came back from injury.
A little leadership goes a long way.
How to Fix It:
The Patriots need to continue to find high-character guys with experience about the idea that their confidence and vigor rubs off on the other guys.
Along with Wilson, either of the other two vets the Patriots worked out today, defensive ends John Abraham and Dwight Freeney (h/t Mike Garafolo of USA TODAY Sports), would help out in this department.
Ed Reed is still out there, too.
Championship-Caliber Defense in 2013 Season?
We saw the Patriots' defense make a drastic improvement in the second part of the 2012 season.
With Pro-Bowlers Wilfork and Mayo leading the pack, guys like Chandler Jones and Brandon Spikes who are destined for defensive stardom and top-notch safety Wilson joining the squad, the Patriots are certainly headed in the right direction.
A few more adjustments like the ones mentioned above could provide the boost New England's defense needs to help them win the big one.
Will the Patriots defense be of championship caliber next season?
Time will tell, but the outlook looks pretty good.
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