Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
In 2012, the Patriots' defense struggled covering the middle of the field against short passes.
Football Outsiders ranked the Pats 30th and 29th covering tight ends and slot receivers, respectively. The problem? The lack of a true coverage linebacker and having to rely on Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower next to Jerod Mayo in pure passing situations.
The Pats addressed this weakness in three ways this offseason.
First was re-signing linebacker Dane Fletcher after he missed 2012 with an ACL tear. Fletcher has always looked comfortable in space and excelled in "spy" responsibilities that line him up on running backs.
Second was the addition of Adrian Wilson. Wilson has struggled somewhat in the preseason and doesn't appear to run as well as he once did.
He was being pencilled in at the dime linebacker position, but after shaky preseason performances, the team might be forced to use rookie Duron Harmon or Tavon Wilson at that spot. Regardless, the team will have options for their coverage linebacker role and will need one of those three to emerge.
Third was the addition of freak athlete Jamie Collins, who played safety, linebacker and defensive end in college. Collins has been tasked with plenty of coverage responsibilities in the preseason from the strong-side linebacker position and should see action early and often this season, especially in sub-packages.
The Pats will need Spikes, Hightower and Mayo to improve as well, as covering the middle of the field is always a group effort, especially on early downs when they're still in their base defense.
The Lions exposed their underneath coverage in the preseason, especially against Spikes and Adrian Wilson. Will it continue into the regular season? The Pats will have to find some answers this year.