By Tom E. CurranWhen and if the labor situation gets settled, the NFL's free agent shopping period will follow soon after. Who's out there? What do the Patriots need? What do the Patriots have? We'll go position-by-position to bring you up-to-speed. RUNNING BACKStatus Report: The Patriots running game in 2010 wasat its most efficient since the departure of Corey Dillon.New England generated 1,973 yards on the ground (4.3 YPC) and 19 touchdowns, but it was the timeliness and consistency of the contributions that made the Patriots rushing attack take heat off of Tom Brady in 2010.Who They Got: The Patriots got a 1,008-yard season out of hard-running and surehanded BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Classic feature back? Maybe not. But he'll more than do. He's a restricted free agent who's been tendered at a second-round level and is sure to be around.Danny Woodhead was even more of a bonus than Benny. He generated 926 yards from scrimmage, scored sixtouchdowns and is a worthy successor to the great Kevin Faulk. Faulk is a free agent after an injury-marred 2010. Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris are free agents as well. What They Need: Depth behind both BJGE and Woodhead will be essential. Benny's backup probably should be someone more durable than Taylor or Morris at this stage of their careers; Woodhead's backup figures to be Faulk if the Patriots bring him back andthey ought to. He was the team's best back in 2009 and his presence and professionalism is a continued touchstone for the youngPatriots. Ideally, the Patriots would get a 220-plus pounder to complement the other two guys. Who's Out There: Darren Sproles (Chargers), Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Jerious Norwood (Falcons), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins), Cedric Benson (Bengals), Mike Tolbert (Chargers), Tim Hightower (Cardinals), DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Michael Bush (Raiders), Joseph Addai (Colts). Possible Targets: Norwood, Tolbert, Hightower, Bush, Addai. The explosive Norwood is coming off a torn ACL and injuries are mounting. Still, he's only 28. Tolbert is a RFA and got a second-round tender from San Diego. He's a 243-pound short-yardage force. The 222-pound Hightower is being fazed out in Arizona. He's only 25. Finally, if the Ravens let go of Willis McGahee, his power and short-yardage skill could make him a target in New England.
On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...
0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.
2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.
6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.
10:00 - A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.
14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.
If your team makes a goal-line stop in the fourth quarter, but you can't see it on the All-22 tape, did it even happen?
Bill Belichick said the fog that hovered above the Gillette Stadium turf on Sunday night didn't impact the play on the field, but it did make its imprint on the game in other ways. First of all, spotters and coaches up at the press level had some difficulty relaying information to coaches on the sidelines. Video on the hand-held tablets for sideline use -- as well as the old-school still-frame pictures Belichick prefers -- was also obstructed.
Then on Monday, as coaches tried to digest the film, the fog butted in on the process again.
"It affected us a lot this morning because it’s hard to see the game," Belichick said during a conference call. "The fourth quarter is – I don’t know – pretty close to a white-out on the sideline film. The sideline cameras are at the top of the stadium, so that’s a tough shot.
"The end zone cameras are a little bit lower and they get a little tighter shot, so the picture is a little bit clearer. But, on that shot, a lot of times you’re not able to see all the guys on the perimeter. It’s kind of an in-line shot.
"Yeah, the first half, start of the third quarter, it’s all right. As they get into the middle of the third quarter and on, for those of us with aging eyes, it’s a little strained to see it, and then there’s a point where you can’t really see it at all, especially from the sideline. So, yeah, it affected us."
Belichick re-iterated that the fog didn't do much to the product on the field (other than maybe making life difficult for kick and punt-returners), refuting Julio Jones' claim from late Sunday night. When it came to digesting the film, though, that was another story.
"It was more, I’d say, just tougher for, whether it be our video camera or the fans that were sitting in the upper deck. It’s just there was too much interference there," Belichick said. "It was probably hard to see the game. I know when we tried to look at the pictures in between series – you know, I don’t look at the tablets, so I won’t get into that – but the pictures, it was kind of the same thing. It was hard to really be able to make out exactly what you were seeing."