Dilfer: Patriots' offense 'exposed' last year

The New England Patriots offense has been discovered and is in need of an overhaul.

That's ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer's belief based on what he saw last year and he projects the Patriots will transform into an offense not so reliant on the spread.

"I think they've been exposed system-wise," Dilfer said.

The Patriots finished third in total offense at 397.3 yards a game, third in passing offense at 277.2 yards a game and sixth in scoring with 26.7 points a game. But Dilfer didn't like what he saw late in the season. The Patriots scored 21 points or fewer in four of their last six regular-season games and were bombed out of the playoffs without injured slot receiver Wes Welker.

"I don't know if they can be better than they were at the end of last year," Dilfer said. "I don't know if they can be what they once were."

What signaled a change to Dilfer was the Patriots' push to improve at tight end. They signed free agent Alge Crumpler and drafted Rob Gronkowski in the second round and Aaron Hernandez in the fourth round.

"Bill Belichick has forgotten more football in the last 20 minutes we've talked than I'll probably ever know," Dilfer told me over the phone. "I trust the fact he can fix it. That's why they went after tight ends [in the offseason].

"They might be the model of why the spread can't work in the NFL. When you're around great coaches in the NFL long enough, you learn why tight end is such a valuable position because it allows you to [use multiple sets] offensively. You can protect your quarterback with quick throws, with maximizing protection, with the run game.

"If they can incorporate those tight ends soon enough and change their system, they can be highly effective again offensively. But if they go back and try the shotgun with three-receiver sets -- I think the numbers were up to 70 percent of the time -- I think they're going to struggle."

Dilfer called Hernandez his "favorite player in the whole draft" because he can threaten the deep middle of the field.

"People say he can't play in-line tight end," Dilfer said. "I think that's crazy. Shannon Sharpe was a lesser blocker than Hernandez, and he played in-line tight end."