The Patriots’ 2013 season was a poster campaign for success in the face of adversity. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick once again performed remarkably well in tandem to ensure a side that was short on the talent of years past yet again made it deep into the postseason. They were undoubtedly helped by a weaker schedule of opponents in the NFC East, but nevertheless to overcome the issues that the team faced and still reach the Championship game is admirable. Having lost Danny Woodhead (San Diego), Wes Welker (Denver) and Aarron Hernandez to prison, the offence was much changed and injuries to Danny Amendola, Rob Gronkowski and many key players on defence ensured the side was patched up for much of the season. Despite that, their four regular season losses came by a combined total of just 18 points. That only the impressive Denver offence prevented this patched up Patriots outfit reaching the Super Bowl again is testament to the skills of Brady as a player and a leader.
With a less than impressive cast of receivers due to injury and departures, Brady still managed to find ways to win football games. 4343 yards, 25 touchdowns, 11 picks and a passer rating of 87.3 may be down on seasons past, but the 12 wins are all that matters at the end of the year. Julian Edelman stepped up into the breach impressively with an outstanding season. At times the only real threat for Brady to target, he still hauled in 105 passes for 1056 yards and six scores. Amendola (54 catches, 633 yards and 2 scores) and Gronkowski (39 catches, 592 yards and four scores) both missed time through injury, which hampered their effectiveness and that of the offence in general. Brady will need more weapons in 2014 to improve this. On the ground, Stevan Ridley (773 yards) and LeGarrette Blount (772 yards) effectively shared duties, while Shane Vereen (47 catches) performed effectively as a third down back. Gronkowski’s recovery from a serious knee injury will be a key factor in the way in which the Patriots’ offensive game plan evolves in 2014.
Defensively the Patriots had to deal with injuries to key players such as Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Vince Wilfork, yet the unit still ranked 10th in the league in allowing 21.1 points per game on average. However that is countered by the fact that the 373.1 yards allowed on average ensured a ranking of 26th in that category. Chandler Jones (11.5) and Rob Ninkovich (8) set the standard in terms of sacks, whilst the now departed Aqib Talib picked up four picks and Logan Ryan managed five. Don’t’a Hightower lead the team with 97 tackles. An injection of new, young blood for 2014 would be a welcome boost to the unit and provide a higher energy and tempo to a defence that just needs to keep games close to allow Brady to keep picking up wins.
Blount averaged 29.1 on kick returns to lead the team and Edelman added to his repertoire by returning punts, averaging 10.7 yards per run back. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski hit an impressive 92.7% of 41 Field Goal attempts, with misses only coming from beyond 40 yards. Punter Ryan Allen will be looking to improve on the NET average of just 39.9 yards achieved last year.
Once again Bill Belichick defied the odds to ensure his team achieved more than the sum of its parts. Faced with difficulties on and off the pitch over the course of the year, his team responded in style and with a successful draft will once again be amongst the front runners in 2014.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
Taqib’s departure was compensated for adequately with the capture of Darrelle Revis from Tampa Bay. The former Jet will be looking forward to the two divisional games to show he can still be a dominant corner in the league. Adding Brandon Browner from Seattle and resigning Patrick Chung from the Eagles gives the Pats secondary a very impressive feel and will be an upgrade on 2013.
Edelman’s retention was an important move given the lack of options at receiver, but the loss of Blount (to Pittsburgh) and linebacker Spikes (to Buffalo) will hurt the team. Whether Ridley can take the load as a single back is doubtful, so Belichick will look to add a player in this position.
Despite the arrival of Brandon LaFell from Carolina, wide receiver is definitely an area of improvement that will be focussed on in the draft. The Patriots may also look to draft at least one tight end, especially if the prognosis regarding Gronkowski’s recovery is not good.
Adding depth and youth on both lines may also be an area of interest, although it would not be a surprise to see the team trade down again and try to pick up multiple selections and good value players in the latter half of the draft as they have done successfully in the past.