2. New England Patriots must fortify the linebacker positions
So what exactly happened to the New England defense down the stretch and in the playoffs?
Bill Belichick’s team stumbled out of the gate but thanks to a seven-game midseason winning streak, the club owned a 9-4 record and was ranked among the league leaders when it came to stopping the opposition. But a funny thing happened on the way to the playoffs and in the 47-17 wild card loss to Buffalo.
The Pats’ run defense fell apart late in the year and that made life easier for opposing quarterbacks as well. The team finished 22nd in the league against the run. Down the stretch, Belichick’s team allowed 270 yards on the ground despite a win over Tennessee and 226 yards rushing in a Saturday night loss at Indianapolis, 195 in a Week 18 setback at Miami, and 174 in the wild card loss at Orchard Park.
New England’s top tackler this past season, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley, could test free agency (via Spotrac). So could Dont’a Hightower, who opted out in 2020 but returned this past year and finished with 64 tackles. Veteran Kyle Van Noy returned after a year with the Dolphins and finished fourth on the club with 66 stops. In any case, the Patriots could use some better play from this area.