Commentary

Patriots need offensive weapons

Updated: April 20, 2010, 1:43 PM ET
By Jason Vida | ESPN Stats and Information

The only thing Bill Belichick loves more than hoodies is draft picks, as evidenced by the NFL-high 12 selections he's acquired for the 2010 draft. Since Belichick arrived in New England in 2000, the Patriots have drafted 89 players, the third-most of any franchise over that period behind the Titans (95) and Packers (91). While the Patriots' draft room will undoubtedly be the scene of much wheeling and dealing this week, New England would be wise to hold on to at least a handful of its selections. ESPN Stats and Information tracked every game of the 2009 season, allowing us to break down the Patriots' performance by formation, personnel, play direction and several other categories. These types of next-level statistics show specific areas where even the league's best teams need to improve in the offseason. Despite a 10-6 record and another division crown in 2009, the Pats have holes to fill. Here are three:

A game-changer on offense

The Patriots haven't selected an offensive skill player in the first two rounds of the draft since 2006, when they grabbed Laurence Maroney and Chad Jackson with their first two selections. Four years later, Maroney is battling to stay atop the depth chart, Jackson is fighting for a roster spot in Buffalo and the Patriots' offense is still without a reliable young playmaker at the tailback or wideout positions.

With Randy Moss entering his 13th season and Wes Welker coming off major knee surgery, the time for the Patriots to add an offensive weapon who can stretch the field is now. New England recorded 50 plays from scrimmage of 20-plus yards in 2009, tied for the 23rd-most in the NFL. Just two seasons earlier, the Pats gained at least 20 yards on 61 plays, more than all but three teams. Such a decline points to an aging offense in need of a game-changer with the speed to make defenses take notice. The Pats should find a prospect that fits that bill early in the draft.

A run-stuffing defensive lineman

The Patriots managed to keep nose tackle Vince Wilfork in the fold with a long-term deal, but that can't be the only step New England takes to shore up its interior run defense this offseason. The 1,768 yards the Pats allowed on the ground last season were their most since 2002, and New England's run defense was at its weakest against rushes straight up the gut. On carries in between the tackles, the Patriots allowed 4.3 yards per rush -- more than 28 other teams.

Last September's trade of Richard Seymour, one of the league's best two-way defensive ends, earned the Pats an additional first-round pick in 2011, but his absence was certainly felt along the defensive line last season. A young defensive lineman with Seymour's ability to stuff the run could make a big impact for the Pats in 2010.

A safety who can control the middle-third of the field

Opponents were able to exploit the middle of the Patriots' defense on the ground and through the air last season, as offenses frequently found success when testing the Pats on deep passes thrown to the middle-third of the field. On balls thrown inside the field numbers and at least 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, New England allowed opponents to complete better than 61 percent of their passes for six touchdowns and a passer rating of 119.9, the fourthth-highest rating in the league on such passes in 2009.

As a former secondary coach, having to watch the deep middle of his defense exploited again and again is probably more than a little bit irritating for Belichick. He should take a step to remedy the situation by selecting a free safety early in this year's draft.

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