INDIANAPOLIS — At least 25 NFL franchises would love to have issues like the New England Patriots this morning.
As we look ahead to 2012, the Pats again will be favored heavily in the AFC East, and no team in the conference holds an edge on them.
Look at the potential contenders.
Pittsburgh ... Yep, it's them or the Pats. They should be right there, but that defense is getting a tad grey.
Baltimore ... This was the Ravens year, but Lee Evans dropped the ball, and Billy Cundiff shanked it away. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis are OLD!
Houston ... Sure, if they get a healthy Matt Schaub and Mario Williams back, but remember this is a franchise with a history of mediocrity.
NY Jets ... Only if Mark Sanchez has an Epiphany.
The AFC West ... Norv Turner's return in San Diego assures that Philip Rivers will waste another season in what should be a Hall of Fame career.
And then there's the wild card, wherever Peyton Manning lands, if he lands anywhere.
So yeah, the Pats are in pretty solid shape. But solid, as we've seen for nearly a decade now, doesn't win Super Bowls.
"Special" wins Super Bowls.
So how do you upgrade the Patriots? Tom Brady, who turns 35 in August, has faltered repeatedly in the playoffs, at least since the knee injury. And Bill Belichick has been at least matched or maybe even outcoached by Tom Coughlin in the last two Super Bowls.
Here are what I believe are five fatal flaws for the Pats with my ideas for a quick and absolute fix.
1. Find a game manager — Count up the on-field flaws, just this Sunday: 10 men on the field for the first punt of the game; a late substitution on defense costing a penalty to negate a turnover; a timeout blown on a useless challenge.
And ultimately the most painful one of them all, waiting one down to decide to allow the Giants to score in the final minute.
You don't think that both of those timeouts burned — one on the challenge of Mario Manningham's clear catch and the other while they pondered letting the Giants score — might have come in handy in the last 57 seconds?
Who is Belichick going to for help when it matters? Is he the sole decision-maker? His offensive coordinator is off working with the unit. And since Belichick is often involved in the defense, running things because he has no coordinater, he needs a right-hand man to help manage the game.
If the NFL Network's documentary on Belichick in the 2009 season showed us anything, it was that he is on the headset up in the box with Nick Caserio. He is the wonder kid, the personnel guru, what have you, but with Caserio, this team's game-day common sense has been lacking.
Maybe, it's time to find someone else, just to help manage a game.
Suggest when to call a timeout or not. Suggest when to run the clock or go for the jugular with the bomb.
Provide common sense. But be prompt about it.
2. A No. 1 or 2 receiver is needed — And yes, this is on top of bringing back Wes Welker.
Brady again needs help. Look at the weapons Eli Manning has. His tight end, Jake Ballard, went down with a knee injury. How easy did Manning make it look in the game-winning drive? He had three legit downfield weapons to pick from, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham.
When you get down to it, Brady has zero downfield weapons, save for Rob Gronkowski in the middle.
Welker, Aaron Hernandez and an aging Deion Branch all work the same street corner these days.
Belichick fell for Chad Ochocinco's lies while he has passed on drafting a Dez Bryant or A.J. Green. That's been a gigantic error here. This team needs a real receiver, and they need it now.
3. Get the mindset to go 5-0 or 6-1, not 13-3 — As pretty as they are, I'm tired of all the Adams Division (AFC East) banners.
Fine, this team is the mark of consistency. Bring in the weak, the wimpy, the mediocre and you will unleash an amazing cauldron of football fury on them.
In the end, what do you have for your troubles? A methodically boring 13-3 regular season with no wins that matter, a back-door playoff win and Super Bowl disappointment.
Forget building a roster to win the AFC East, build one to win the Super Bowl. Don't worry about beating all the bad teams.Focus on the three regular season games with the good ones. Win those and then the playoff games.
Look at the 2012 slate.
Home: San Francisco, Buffalo, Arizona, Indianapolis, Miami, New York Jets, Houston, Denver.
Away: Buffalo, Miami, Jacksonville, New York Jets, St. Louis, Seattle, Tennessee, Baltimore.
I care about the Niners, Jets, Texans, Tebow and Baltimore.
Win those six games. Trust me, do that and you'll make the playoffs. How do you do that? You draft and sign superstars and playmakers.
You don't trade back 47 times to end up with Pat Chung, Darius Butler, Sebastian Vollmer and Ron Brace.
You bump up for Brian Cushing or Brian Orakpo or hold steady and nab Clay Matthews.
The Pats passed on Hakeem Nicks in that same 2009 draft. Instead, they dropped into the third and drafted his banged-up, bargain-basement North Carolina teammate Brandon Tate. Nicks caught 10 balls Sunday for 109 yards. Not sure what Tate was up to.
4. Admit running back by committee is a flop — The time has come. Forget about versatility, again it's about a star.
I want a 1,000-yard back to get 90 percent of the carries, a la Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon. They played first-and-second downs, and Kevin Faulk played third.
Now, it's BJG-E for one series, and Danny Woodhead here, Stevan Ridley there.
Commit to one good back and get him the football. Same thing on third-down. Commit to one back there as well.
5. Continue to stock the defense — If Sunday's game had one pure positive, it's that the defense indeed got better as the year went along.
Vince Wilfork is the anchor. He will be for two-three more years. Kyle Love is coming on and can play a role like Ty
Warren, Anthony Pleasant and Bobby Hamilton have here. And other pieces can be filled in on the line.
At linebacker, Brandon Spikes showed enough against the run to merit optimism. Teach him to cover.
Jerod Mayo is a pro. He's not Pat Willis or Brian Urlacher. He's solid.
Consider that Victor Cruz TD catch that whizzed by Mayo's ear-hole. If it's 2003, Tedy Bruschi plucks that one out of the air and takes it 102 yards the other way. Mayo turned his back to the play. In a play, his career was summed up.
There is still a humongous need for a star at linebacker, a playmaker like Willie McGinest or Bruschi, especially if Belichick is to remain loyal to his 3-4 roots.
Finally, this secondary needs serious repair.
We've seen flashes that Pat Chung could be something at safety, something more than the JAGs around him.
Devin McCourty needs a trip to the sports psychologist, but I'm on the optimistic side and say he can play a little.
Everyone else needs to be upgraded.
An enforcer-type is needed at strong safety, so Chung can play his more suitable free safety spot.
But in Wilfork, Love, Spikes, Mayo and Chung, a foundation is nearly set on defense.
Can someone explain Brady?
Tom Brady has been two different quarterbacks over his regular-season career, going from game manager from 2001-2006 to explosive game-changer from 2007-2011.
But unlike the regular season, Brady's playoff numbers through his career have remained steady.
My theory on this is that since 2007 the Pats have been built to beat up on the lesser teams in the NFL, while paying the price in the playoffs. From 2001-06, Brady went 12-2 in playoffs with three titles. From 2007 on, he is 4-4 in the postseason with none.
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