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Patriots' 60-second rant: Everything is clicking, but kick coverage could improve

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Recent posts by Kevin Fishbain

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Posted Dec. 14, 2010 @ 8:37 p.m. ET
By Kevin Fishbain

The most negative aspect of the Patriots through 12 weeks of the season was the defense, and rightfully so. They were dead last in the league in multiple categories and had won game in spite of, not because of, the defense. Timely interceptions and a juggernaut offense kept them on the winning path.

But the defense is finally coming together, not just creating turnovers. The Pats allowed three points to the Jets and seven to the Bears in the last two weeks, helping cement them as the clear-cut best team in the league.

So what can you say is wrong with this team? We've looked at the poor pass rush, but the linebacker play and solid coverage is making up for a non-existent pass rush. The secondary is starting to make great on-the-ball plays and the bend-but-not-break defense is clearly improving.

Obviously there is nothing wrong with an offense that is averaging 39.2 points per game during the current five-game winning streak.

Let's get nit-picky here, and there's a reason to do so. When a team needs an upset, which the Patriots' remaining opponents will be looking to do, they need to win in two major aspects of the game: turnovers and special teams. The Patriots haven't turned the ball over in the last five games, which leaves special teams. Few things in football are more momentum-swinging and game-changing than a kick-return touchdown, and if the Patriots have struggled in anything, it's been kick coverage, where they rank 19th in the league.

Two recent games in particular come to mind that highlight the unit's issues this season. On Thanksgiving against the Lions' top return man, Stefan Logan, the Patriots allowed a 42-yard return, and Logan averaged 27.7 yards a return. In the snow on Sunday, Bears return men had a great day. Danieal Manning had a 40-yard return and averaged 31 yards per, while Devin Hester had a 61-yard return that led to the Bears' only points.

New kicker Shayne Graham does not have the leg of Stephen Gostkowski. In five games with New England, Graham has just two touchbacks. Gostkowski booted 15 into the endzone in eight games.

Luckily for New England, they play a Packers team that is 27th in the league in kick returns, but some of their special-teams players like LB Tracy White, LB Dane Fletcher, RB Sammy Morris and CB Devin McCourty need to step up in filling their lanes. It should help having S Jarrad Page back as well.

Sure, it's a very small problem that New England has more than made up for during its dominant stretch, but it's the exact unit that could cause the game to swing away from the Patriots and force them to play from behind.

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