First of all, congratulations for a good season, and making the rest of the NFL world sit up and take notice of what you have going on. As a Pats fan from Ye Olde England, I haven't had the opportunity to watch the Panthers very much, but have been impressed with what I saw, especially in your game against us. Congratulations on the win again.
But rather than come here to moan about Kuechly bear hugging Gronk, or just sing your praises, I wanted to canvas opinion on what were the keys to your improved defensive performance.
I ask because I'm impressed at a unit that finished less than a point per game behind the Seahawks, as the second best scoring defense in football, as well as second in yards, and tied for third place in the Bruschi Defensive Index. And all this after being a middle of the pack, to just above average 18th in points and 10th in yards last year.
The obvious change to me was spending your first two picks on DTs, with the addition of Star being a huge game changer. Add the addition of Colin Cole in FA, and you made a significant and repeated upgrade to the defensive interior.
But I'm interested to know if there are any other key factors I have missed that helped lead to the change.
And of course I ask with my eyes really fixed on my own team, and wondering about improving the Pats defense. This year despite losing our top 3 DTs and top LB for most of the year, and a lot of other guys for games here and there, the Pats defense finished 10th in points, and 26th in yards, which doesn't seem much worse from your performance last year, albeit with us giving up less points but a lot more yards.
When I compare the teams (before potential FA losses and additions have happened) I think the Patriots have a comfortably more talented secondary than the Panthers. I think the LB corps are similar, with the Panthers getting the edge because of having the best player, but the groups being pretty comparable in terms of talent. At DE you guys clearly have the lead with two top level players, but Chandler Jones is of a similar class, and Nink is a solid player. Both teams seem short on quality depth here, with just a mix of vets and hopeful upside guys. And at DT our non-injured guys this year, seem to compare to your guys from last year, as being on the whole not very good.
Now I know you can't rely on catching a falling Star every year, let alone at #29, but I wonder whether drafting a disruptive interior presence could help put our defense over the top, like I think it did yours. Whether it is a NT like Nix, or 3T like Donald, Jernigan etc, I think it could make all the difference, especially if one or two of our injured guys could make an impact.
So my questions to you are, what were the key factors that led to your improved defense? What have I missed?
And how do you see the talent on your roster, have I short changed you guys at any positions (I expect I have)? Where would you say the Patriots need to upgrade most on defense?
Thanks for allowing this intrusion, and for the feedback, and here's to a productive offseason for both teams!