Through two preseason games, the New England Patriots have shown a lot of positive signs, coming away victorious in both outings. Things are still far from perfect for the Pats, however, and Bill Belichick's squad still has some weaknesses as the regular season approaches.
Things could have been far worse if Tom Brady had suffered a serious knee injury last week.
Some analysts might make the argument that the Pats' new receiving corps is their biggest weakness, but all signs up to this point seem to show that Brady won't have any problem with Danny Amendola and company.
Still, the Patriots have some areas that need improvement in all three phases of the game, on offense, defense and special teams alike.
Let's start with the offense. It all comes down to the tight end position, an area where the Patriots have excelled in recent years. With Gronk sidelined after multiple surgeries and the loss of Hernandez, tight end is no longer a strong point for the Brady bunch.
Not having Hernandez will be tough, mainly because of his versatility. He could catch, block and even line up as a wide receiver or running back.
The Pats will miss his production. He caught 51 passes for 483 yards and five touchdowns a season ago. The year before that he was even better (79 receptions, 910 yards, seven TDs).
Not only is Hernandez no longer around, but also Gronk, the biggest mismatch in football, could very well miss the start of the regular season. According to ESPN's Stephania Bell, Gronkowski could potentially begin the season on the "physically unable to perform" list.
By the time he does return, it is going to take him some time to get back in the groove. Also, will Gronk still perform at the elite level that we have grown accustomed to?
Filling in at tight end for the moment is rookie Zach Sudfeld. At 6'7", Sudfeld is quite a mismatch himself.
Sudfeld can become a valuable tool on offense. Even so, relying on an undrafted rookie to fill in for Hernandez or Gronkowski isn't exactly an ideal scenario.
On the other side of the ball, the secondary is still a concern. Until the Patriots' defensive backs prove that they are better than the No. 29-best passing defense in the league, where they finished last season, this is still the team's weakness.
This has been a major concern for the team over the past few years. In fact, the Patriots have finished in the bottom four in passing defense for the past three seasons.
Sure, the Pats made some improvements to the secondary during the latter part of the 2012 season by trading for Aqib Talib, moving Devin McCourty to free safety and making Dennard a starter at corner.
They even added Adrian Wilson through free agency and drafted cornerback Logan Ryan in the offseason. The secondary still has a lot to prove, and opposing teams will pass, pass and pass some more on the Patriots.
Ryan has looked terrific in two preseason games so far. He took an interception 53 yards back to the house for six in the win over the Bucs.
On the other hand, DeSean Jackson burned Talib for a 47-yard touchdown against the Philadelphia Eagles in the Pats' first preseason game. Also, Dennard and Ras-I Dowling have been fighting off minor injuries in practice this month, which has limited their action.
Dowling really needs to stay healthy, get on the field and prove his worth. He has the talent, but if he can't stay healthy, there's a chance that the oft-injured cornerback might get cut.
The Patriots will need to improve their pass defense, which has been a glaring weakness over the past three seasons.
After these two exhibition games, Patriots fans have to be nervous about the kicking game. Stephen Gostkowski didn't have the greatest season in 2012, but he is not looking any better so far in the preseason.
Gostkowski has missed three of his five field goal attempts through the first two preseason games.
To be fair, all three misses came on attempts of more than 40 yards. With that said, it is still completely unacceptable that he has missed more kicks than he has made thus far.
His job is safe for now since there are no other kickers on the roster, but if he doesn't get his act together, the Patriots may have to part ways with Gostkowski by next season.
The Pats are 2-0 in the preseason and will definitely be a strong team this season. They can be an even stronger team in 2013 if they improve on these weaknesses.
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