It is going on 4 years since the Patriots made the Super Bowl and 7 since they won the Super Bowl. It’s not that New England isn’t in contention anymore, because they are, each and every year, it’s that they’ve failed to fix the problems and establish players on the defensive side that was the key to them winning 3 titles in 4 seasons earlier in the decade.
Brady keeps the offense rolling no matter who is playing on the other side. But we can say the same thing about Peyton Manning, and people have and did, until he and the Colts won a Super Bowl. The Patriots and Belichick have failed to build back up what they had, a championship defense.
The number of good choices they’ve made have been far outweighed by the mistakes on that side as it comes to personel. Vince Wilfork and Jerred Mayo have been homeruns hit in the first round for the Patriots. They have had very little success otherwise despite ample opportunities by trading down and out of drafts and acquiring more players.
Going into this year, it was thought New England would focus on that in the draft, but they did not. 6/9 picks in 2011 were used on offense. 2 of the defensive players were taken in the 6th and 7th rounds.
The defense has been predictibly abused this year. The secondary has been ripped most often, and that is particularly discouraging considering the attention the Pats have paid to it in recent years.
No other team in the NFL has used a first- or second-round pick in each of the past four years on the position, as the Patriots have — Terrence Wheatley (2008, second round), Darius Butler (2009, second round), Devin McCourty (2010, first round) and Ras-I Dowling(2011, second round).
That’s a lot of investment at the position, not to mention the four-year, $22 million contract the team signed veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden to last year.
What makes matters worse, is New England essentially confessing to their errors by getting rid of players. In the preseason they cut both starting safeties, James Sanders and Brandon Merriweather. During this year they cut bait on Bodden and Butler.
Belichick has gotten the genius label, but he hasn’t arrived at a solution to the problems plaguing the defense yet. Eventually you run out of players to get rid of and must look at who is responsible for drafting them and coaching them.
Belichick’s eye for talent is clearly been out of focus and his ability to draft players to do what he desires also hasn’t matched up. Where he has also nailed adding veterans like Randy Moss, Rodney Harrison, and Corey Dillon in the past, he has failed recently with Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco, and Leigh Bodden. Eventually Tom Brady will run out of years of dominating play and not be able to carry the defense anymore.
The clock is ticking. New England is contending, but not fooling anyone. We can pull back the curtain and see all the errors that have been made. The AFC is wide open this season, partly because the Pats didn’t put themselves in position with correct player moves to be the favorite.