Patriots Midterm Grades

FOXBORO MA - OCTOBER 31: Tom Brady gives a thumbs up before a game against the Minnesota Vikings. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

What have we learned from the first half of the NFL regular season? Wins are not easy to come by. More than half of the league has a .500 record or below. At 6-2 the Patriots are tied with five other franchises for the best record in football. Here PatsPulpit scribes hand out some grades for the various New England offensive, defensive and special teams units, as well as the coaching staff.

NOTE: These grades were calculated before the Patriots Week 9 loss to the Browns.

 

Bill Belichick

Richard Hill: B+

With all the preseason injuries, I'm surprised the team is (6-1) [written prior to the loss to Cleveland]. That said, I still disagree with how soft the defense plays coverage between the twenties and I think that's on Belichick.

Mike Dussault: A

Did anyone think the Patriots would be (6-1) [written prior to the loss to Cleveland] with this young defense? There's still a lot of work to be done, but winning while rebuilding is a rare feat and the mark of an excellent head coach. 

Stephen Verman: A

Bill has done an incredible job of coaching this team up. Replace him with any other coach in this league and they would struggle to get a winning record out of this squad. Bonus points go to his handling of the Randy Moss and Logan Mankins situations.

Tom Brady

Richard Hill: B+

Nothing spectacular, but he's still a player.

Mike Dussault: A-

Despite sometimes trying to force passes, especially to Randy Moss and later Deion Branch, Brady has been his usual solid self. He's spreading the ball around now and doing whatever it takes to win. 

Stephen Verman: B

In 2007, Brady’s touch on the deep ball was the best in the business. Now he’s just barely in the top five. Arm strength is not the problem, so I would lean toward blaming the knee injury. His decision-making was not the best against the Jets, but when the Patriots need a clutch drive that takes time off the clock and produces a score, he’s still the man.

 

 


Running Backs

Richard Hill: B

They can help out, but I still don't think anything can be expected of them.

Mike Dussault: B+

This grade pretty much goes for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, the rest are incomplete. These two guys have been much better than expected, it's like we suddenly have Corey Dillon and Kevin Faulk lite out there. 

Stephen Verman: B+

Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis are a good combination. They are well suited to their roles, and I like the effort they each give. Woodhead’s blocking has been a positive, and Green-Ellis is reliable for short yardage. I’d like to see a couple more big gains now and then.


Wide Receivers

Richard Hill: B

With the ball being so spread out, not much is known. They're still producing.

Mike Dussault: B

Welker and Tate have been inconsistent at times, but have made a fair share of big plays. Deion Branch had a big game in his return, but disappeared against the Chargers and was hampered by a hamstring injury against the Vikes. There have been times that none of the WRs have been able to get separation, causing Brady to take sacks or throw it away. 

Stephen Verman: C+

There have been too many drops in recent weeks, and no wide receiver has emerged as a consistent threat. Tate will be a huge deep threat once he finds his stride, and Welker is reliable although his production is down. This unit is struggling without Moss, but I think they just need a little time, and will improve by the end of the year.


Tight Ends

 

Richard Hill: A

Aaron Hernandez is awesome. Rob Gronkowski is awesome. Alge Crumpler is awesome.

Mike Dussault: A

What a difference a year makes and wow does the future look bright. Did anyone realize the kind of locker room presence we were getting with Alge Crumpler? Rob Gronkowski has been an unsung hero for his blocking (handled Ray Edwards one on one) while Aaron Hernandez's versatility is just scratching the surface. 

Stephen Verman: A-

Gronkowski and Hernandez are lucky to have Alge Crumpler to learn from. He is a class act and a great blocker. Despite the occasional mistakes, some more costly than others, the tight ends have changed the nature of the offense and been a big positive.


Offensive Line

Richard Hill: C+

They started off well, but have been a sieve the past couple weeks.

Mike Dussault: A-

There were some protection issues against the Raven and Chargers but they buttoned up against the Vikings. The running game has also been sharp when it's needed to be. Not quite dominant, but this group will be even better once Logan Mankins gets in there.

Stephen Verman: B

Some games have been better than others. Overall this is a good squad but there is definitely room for improvement. Getting Mankins back may give them some confidence and attitude.


Defensive Line

Richard Hill: B+

They're doing well with stopping/slowing the run, but they're still not opening big enough holes for the linebackers. Brandon Deaderick is a surprise rising star

Mike Dussault: A-

This all starts with the run game and the Patriots have yet to give up a 100-yard rusher this season. While the pass rush could be a little better both Myron Pryor, Brandon Deaderick, and Mike Wright have shown sparks. Ron Brace has shown flashes, while Gerard Warren has been a versatile presence at all positions.

Stephen Verman: B+

The depth and versatility of this group is very impressive. Bill has done a good job identifying the strengths of each player and putting them in a position to use their talents. Wilfork has been playing his heart out, but just imagine how much better he would be with Ty Warren at his side….


Outside Linebackers

Richard Hill: A-

Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham have exceeded expectations. So has Shawn Crable (but he had 0 expectations). Tully Banta-Cain hasn't played as he should. All are doing well against the run and the pass.

Mike Dussault: B+

There have been some growing pains, especially setting the edge for Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham. But both have improved with each game and made their fair shares of plays. Tully Banta-Cain has been reduced to more of a DPR role, he needs to start producing a little more.

Stephen Verman: B

Overall the production from this position has been better than expected, but still needs to get better. Cunningham looks like he is steadily improving, and Ninkovich has been one of the top surprises. Banta-Cain has yet to hit the level he was playing at last year, and on the whole this position needs to be more consistent.


Inside Linebackers

Richard Hill: A-

Jerod Mayo is an all-star and Brandon Spikes is playing well. Gary Guyton is a liability, but Dane Fletcher should be taking a lot of his snaps.

Mike Dussault: A-

Jerod Mayo gets an A+, he is back to being the tackling machine we thought he'd be after 2008. Brandon Spikes has shown some inconsistency recognizing play action, but he's been a huge factor in the run game. Gary Guyton hasn't made plays like he did in week one, and I wonder if Dane Fletcher will soon take over as the passing down LB next to Mayo.

Stephen Verman: A-

The combination of Mayo and Spikes is a success, and they should continue to improve as the season goes on. Gary Guyton has not been great, but Dane Fletcher has stepped up when called upon. Guyton is one of the fastest linebackers in the league, and I’d like to see him sent on blitzes more.


Cornerbacks

Richard Hill: C+

Devin McCourty is a great surprise and is playing well. After that, not so much. Darius Butler was benched. Kyle Arrington can't block a pass or defend a hitch route if his life depended on it. Surprisingly, Jonathan Wilhite has been one of the more solid performers. That's how you know it's bad.

Mike Dussault: B

There have been some bumps but Devin McCourty looks like a future pro bowler, while Kyle Arrington has been solid and physical. Jonathan Wilhite had a bad game against the Vikings but he's been better this year than he was last year. Darius Butler continues to wait for another shot. I find it interesting he hasn't been tried at nickel over Wilhite yet.

Stephen Verman: C+

Given the inexperience among this unit the overall result has not been bad. McCourty is a fantastic competitor, and does a good job of sticking with his man. As he gets more comfortable he should be able to anticipate routes and possibly snag a few more interceptions. Arrington has shown good tackling ability, but his lack of experience shows. If these guys can put the mistakes behind them and keep improving they could be adequate come playoff time.


Safeties

Richard Hill: B

Pat Chung is an All-Star. After that- eh. Brandon Meriweather is uncertain. James Sanders isn't playing well. Jarrad Page is injured, but was okay. Sergio Brown is exceeding expectations, but is still considered "okay" when looking at him as a player.

Mike Dussault: B+

All four top safeties have missed time due to injuries (Chung, Page, Sanders), and "freelancing" (Meriweather). But Chung was having a break out year before missing most of the Chargers game and all of the Vikings game. If Meriweather can settle down and play within the system this could be a very good group. James Sanders remains solid, but isn't exceptional in any area. Jared Page was just starting to come on before getting hurt. It will be interesting to see how he's used once he does return. Sergio Brown is big guy and has played well in limited time. His ceiling is not yet known.

Stephen Verman: B

I think Chung and Meriweather can be a solid duo given some time. Right now Meriweather needs to focus on doing the little things right, and making that his base to improve upon. Sanders is a nice player to have when others are injured, but he is just good, not great. Getting Chung back is key to stopping the run, as he and Mayo can cover the entire field and rarely botch a tackle.


Kicker

Richard Hill: B+

Stephen Gostkowski is great on kickoffs and has shaken off his early season field goal issues.

Mike Dussault: A-

After a shaky start Gostkowski has gotten back to his Pro Bowl ways.

Stephen Verman: B

Gostkowski’s misses to begin the season were inexcusable, but he straightened it out. His leg on kickoffs has been a plus.


Punter

Richard Hill: B+

Zoltan Mesko has been worlds better than Chris Hanson. Still a rookie.

Mike Dussault: A-

Given the fact that he's a rookie Mesko has been excellent. His punt in overtime against the Ravens has to be a highlight of the first half of the season. He still has some inconsistency at times, hopefully that improves. 

Stephen Verman: B

Mesko still has some kinks to iron out, but I’ve generally been impressed with him, especially as a holder on field goals. He’s got plenty of leg.


Overall Special Teams

Richard Hill: B

Nothing terrible. Jake Ingram has been iffy, but everyone else is playing well. Tracey White is playing great special teams.

Mike Dussault: A-

Brandon Tate started off like gangbusters but has leveled off as teams began game planning for him. Overall this is a top five unit that almost singlehandedly won the Miami game

Stephen Verman: A-

Brandon Tate is a feared returner, and overall this unit has been great. People questioned Bill’s preseason trades for "special-teams only" players, but Tracey White has been terrific in coverage. I’d like to see a little more from the punt returners.


Overall Offense

Richard Hill: B+

Apart from the debacle against San Diego, the offense has been pretty good. They're good against teams they should be good against. They're mediocre against teams they should be mediocre against.

Mike Dussault: B+

They're still searching for their identity a bit, but so far they've been making the plays they need to win the games.

Stephen Verman: B

The offense has uncharacteristically started games slowly, but are generally coming through when it counts. I think Brady could improve, but his leadership has been key through the Moss transition. If he can continue to develop an understanding with Tate, Gronkowski, Hernandez and Woodhead, this unit will be very tough to defend come playoff time (knock on wood). The running game has been productive, but I’d like to see more big gains. Perhaps the return of Fred Taylor would help, but ‘Law Firm’ and Woodhead have been solid.


Overall Defense

Richard Hill: B+

With so many injuries, this young defense is defying logic and exceeding expectations. They're getting the job done- barely.

Mike Dussault: B

They're doing enough to let the offense win, but barely. If not for a solid run D their (6-2) record could be much different. The pass defense, especially on third down, could be this teams achilles heal. There is no area that needs improvement more than there.

Stephen Verman: B-

This defense is playing well above their talent level, and should only get better. They have developed a good team-first mentality and are learning to trust each other and step up when it matters. Neither the run defense nor the pass defense is especially consistent, but they are playing good situational football. They face some tough offenses in the second half of the season, and if they can slow them down it could bode well for a playoff run. I’d like to see a few more takeaways though.


Overall Coaching

Richard Hill: B

With such great, but young, talent, the coaches are doing a pretty good job.

Mike Dussault: A

The team is (6-2) and that's all that matters. An excellent, potentially Coach of the Year worthy, performance from Bill Belichick.

Stephen Verman: A

I give a huge tip of the cap to the coaching squad as a whole. Special teams coach Scott O’Brien especially has done a wonderful job. The responsibility-sharing system Bill has devised seems to be working, and the players have benefited from his heavy involvement.

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