If you watched the 2013 AFC East Champion Patriots in 2013, two things stuck out to you. One being the need for a receiving tight end for when Gronkowski undoubtedly goes down. The other, the team’s inability to get off the field on third down and longer situations.
Quickly – the Patriots will address the tight end position in the draft. I don’t know what round, but they will. A decision on Gronkowski needs to be made by the end of this season because he is due a major roster bonus that the Patriots, if pressed right now, likely wouldn’t give the injury prone lug. Not taking anything away from Gronkowski, but no health, no money. The Patriots are ruthless and that’s good.
Now, on to the point of this article:
The Patriots inability to get off the field on third and longer situations rears its ugly head in the pure statistics. opposing teams converted on third and eight, or longer, 25.3% of the time. That number ranks the Patriots 22nd in a league of 32 teams – not good enough.
“We have to get off the field on third downs better,” said linebacker/defensive end for the Patriots Rob Ninkovich. “I think we had too many third-and-longs converted. That’s another thing that hurts you, when it’s third-and-15 and they run a screen and they get the first down. That comes down to assignments, guys running after the ball, running lanes where you’re at, it all works together.”
To me, it’s not as much about screen passes as it was about tight ends and receivers beating Patriots safeties and corners down the field. Third and long is a definite passing situation and that fact, along with the fact that the Patriots will be taking on offenses like Cincinnati, Chicago, Denver, Indianapolis, Green Bay, San Diego and Detroit in 2014, led to the Pats signing two starting corners Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.
Many times it wasn’t about the opponents first option, but their second or third option that beat the Patriots. The lack of depth at the corner and safety positions was the main issue and it led to some unknown and unlikely receivers making an impact in games.
LaVon Brazill made two catches for the Colts only two touchdowns of the game in the post season. Jacob Tamme, the Broncos second tight end and fifth offensive option, caught two catches and one for a touchdown. Jeremy Kerley, who was an unknown receiver until he torched the Patriots for 97 yards on eight receptions and a touchdown in the Patriots week 7 loss to the Jets.
Those are just a few examples of a season-long struggle the Patriots had in stopping team’s second and third options. Revis and Browner, paired with Alfonso Dennard, who will now be number three in depth as I see it and Logan Ryan, who showed great instincts in 2013. All four of those players lends itself to a Patriots secondary that has finally fixed a decade -long problem, corner depth.