Gresh’s Grades: Patriots midterm report card
Grading to this point
It took my radio producer @jimlouth to point out to me early last week that the Patriots -- 7-2 after their first nine games -- are in position to get a first-round bye in the playoffs. Which astounded me because, as fans and observers are aware, they haven’t played like a team worthy of a playoff bye. Note these grades are for how they’ve played to this point and don’t necessarily indicate future performance. The Pats should get better when they get healthier, but I also think that, while the defense carried the day in the first half, it’s going to be more about the offense in the second half of 2013.
The grade may not match the stats because of their ability to score, run the ball, and not turn it over. The Pats are fourth in the league in interception rate, which is amazing considering the fluctuations with the skill people around Tom Brady. Moving forward, the third-down numbers should improve because of having Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back; Shane Vereen will also make a massive difference in that statistic. They have to clean up the sack problem quickly because if TB12 gets hurt, it’s over. And I do believe his play will get better with lineup consistency.
Brady’s been good, not great. But there are some things affecting him, specifically injuries and lack of trust in some guys. I'm convinced TB12 is playing through a physical problem. His hand doesn’t look right and that has affected his accuracy. Still, he’s taken great care of the ball and his game operation has been spot on. The only three guys capable of pulling off what he has so far this year with all the change are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. All Hall of Famers. I do believe Brady will end up with 30 TD passes this year.
RUNNING BACKS: A-
Shane Vereen was great in the one game he played; he's about to come back and add a layer to the passing game. Brandon Bolden has done a nice job filling in for Vereen and is a good complimentary piece. LeGarrette Blount has been okay. I hate that he’s returning kicks, and he dances too much for my liking in the backfield. If he runs north-south in the second half, he can really help this team. Stevan Ridley is a star if they just ride him. Yes he fumbles, but beyond that, name me something he can’t do. He’s built for 300 carries and I want to see him run a lot in the second half.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
We must remember the rookies have arguably played above their heads so far this season. Early on it was Kenbrell Thompkins who did a nice job of just letting his raw ability take over. Now we’re at the point where people will take away what you do well, and he needs to learn HOW to play the game. Aaron Dobson, in my mind, has been the reverse: He learned early and now, combined with his talent, is starting to assert himself with better non-verbal communication with TB12. Amendola has been good at times and great at times. He looks healthy, which is the most important thing. Julian Edelman held down the fort while DA was hurt and will now be a spot player, but someone TB12 can count on.
TIGHT END: B
Tough to grade with Gronk being out for as long as he has been. He now looks like he’s back in shape and ready to be the player we know he can be. Matthew Mulligan is the resident meathead and does yeoman’s work. Michael Hoomanawanui has played about as well as you can ask given the role they had to jam him into. He gotten better as a blocker, has been durable, and keeps quiet.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
This group has been really good in the running game and the numbers show it. They’re in the top 10 in the league in rushing and are fifth in the league in rushing touchdowns. Good tough yards in tough spots. My issues is with all the sacks and pressures this year. They’re ninth in the NFL in sacks allowed, and that means you’re bad. Logan Mankins has had some issues this year, but when they need a tough yard, they run left. Nate Solder has to get better in one-on-one blocking so TB12 can trust him in critical situations. Marcus Cannon is worth watching to see if he can play well enough to hold down the RT spot with Will Svitek on the roster. They have the best assistant on the staff coaching them in Dante Scarnecchia, and they should get better.
This group was the story for the first four weeks of this season. Then injuries set it and really started to affect some of the critical numbers, like rushing defense and third-down conversions. Few team can absorb losing their NT, DT, and MLB, as most defenses are built from the middle out. This team has done about as good a job as you can with those losses. Their base 'D' is now 3-4 and they have to learn to be better against the run out of that look. If they do, they could go on a run.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
I don’t think you could ask for any more production out of this group than what they’ve given you. Chris Jones has had impact in some games, and others he’s disappeared; that’s what rookies do. Joe Vellano has done an outstanding job filling in for Vince Wilfork, but it’s Chandler Jones who’s been outstanding. He’s been drawing special attention and still shows up every week. Rob Ninkovich in the DE/LB role has been himself, and you can win with him. Going to a three-man front will help and maybe someone like Isaac Sopoaga or Armond Armstead can impact moving forward. The one thing I do know is they can’t afford another injury to this group.
Jerod Mayo was highly productive and versatile before getting injured and now Dont'a Hightower has stepped into that role. The week after Mayo got hurt Hightower didn’t adapt well, so they took the green dot for play calling away. Now he's settling in. His versatility actually hurt him, I think, because the coaches can ask him to do too much. Brandon Spikes is Brandon Spikes. Can’t cover anyone, but can really play the run. He is what he is. I don’t need to see anything else from Dane Fletcher; he’s a special-teamer only. And Jaime Collins is the key moving forward to making the 3-4 work. I think the coaches are about to turn him loose a little.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
Aqib Talib has been a stud; he’s just gotta get healthy. Very quietly, Alfonzo Dennard has done a nice job against various opponents . . . including the Nebraska court system. When is that court date?? Logan Ryan has been a nice addition and can play well in man or zone. He has great ball skills and has been very consistent for a rookie. The safeties have played well: Steve Gregory looks much more comfortable in the scheme and Devin McCourty has been a Pro Bowler this year. He’s quietly developing into one of the most sound DB’s in the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Stephen Gostkowski has been great this season; he's in the top five in field goals and has done an outstanding job with kickoffs and touchbacks. Ryan Allen has gotten better at working the ball inside the 20-yard line, but needs to take a giant leap at pinning people inside the 10. Edelman has once again done a great job in returning punts and staying upright. And Blount is Blount in the return game. All in all, well done.