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Patriots Midseason Report Card: Quarterbacks and Running Backs

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Patriots Midseason Report Card
Quarterbacks and Running Backs

In the midst of a possible perfect season, Tom Brady is right about one thing: Not all is perfect.

But it's certainly not all that bad, either.

Giving grades on a pro sports "report card" is not easy. There are exams every week, and there are lots of numbers, but any kind of grading system is far from standardized. You don't even judge players who play the same position equally. You judge them against themselves, and then you have to weight them within their group.

No matter the methodology, there will be disagreement. That's why you're here: To read and to debate. So without further ado, here is the offensive report card:

Overall Offense: A+

This is simply a grade against expectations. There may be a very small number of people who expected the offense to perform this way, and they all work at Gillette Stadium. Most of us knew they would be good, better than last year -- even significantly better than last year, but leading the league [after Week 9] in

  • total offense? (428.7 yards per game; Dallas, 2nd, 406.0)
  • in passing? (296.3 ypg; Green Bay, 2nd, 290.1)
  • in scoring? (39.4 points per game; Dallas, 2nd, 33.1)

[Following Week 10, the Patriots are

  • 1st in total offense ahead of Dallas (396.8)
  • 2nd in passing behind Green Bay (298.8)
  • 1st in scoring ahead of Dallas (32.9).]

That's to say nothing of their pure number of 355 points -- 90 more than Dallas, though the Cowboys have played one game less [59 points after Week 10] -- or that they've outscored opponents by a mind-boggling 208 points (Pittsburgh, 2nd, 127).

The only real changes over last year have been at the receiver position, but they have been monumental improvements, changing the face of New England's offense, making every other unit better.

Quarterbacks: A+

I don't think the group -- being that Tom Brady plays 99 percent of the time -- bears discussion, so we'll go directly to individual grades.

Tom Brady: A+

Brady is better than ever, if you could even believe that was possible. It's amazing what the addition of a couple top-tier receivers can do for a great quarterback.

But, really, Brady's not any better. He's doing the same exact things he's always done. He just has more options (better receivers) and more time (because teams have to cover the receivers), and he's making the most of it.

Over the last 6 years, Brady raised finding the open receiver to an art form. With the second-, third-, and lower-tier receivers he's had to work with, Brady went through progressions and made better decisions than maybe any quarterback ever. With the enormously raised level of talent at receiver now, Brady rarely needs to traverse his progressions, and he simply throws to any number of options. He still throws with precision, but now he is also able to throw passes he couldn't before because he has receivers who can make plays.

Brady's statistics are Madden NFL-like, far better than any in his own illustrious career.

In nine games, he has:

  • 2,686 yards (career best is 4,110)
  • 33 touchdowns (career best of 28)
  • 4 interceptions (every year in his career, he's had either 12 or 14)
  • 73.2 completion percentage (career best of 63.0)
  • 2 rushing touchdowns (career best of 1)
  • passer rating of 131.8 (career best of 92.6)
Matt Cassel: C-

That might be generous. Cassel is 2 of 5 with an interception returned for a touchdown against a team that could barely play defense until 2 weeks ago. He slightly redeemed himself with a 15-yard scramble for a touchdown. We didn't expect much; we evidently don't have much.

We have seen a glimpse of life after Brady, and it's much like life before Brady.

Matt Gutierrez: B

I'm tempted to give Gutierrez an incomplete, since we've seen him do nothing but take knees, except when he replaced Cassel. At that time, he ran a few plays, throwing one pass, which at least was a completion, for 15 yards. Hey, not bad for an emergency quarterback. At least he hasn't done anything detrimental.

Running Backs: B+

As a unit, these guys have done the job assigned them. They gain yards, they burn clock, they catch passes, they pass block. They have made teams need to consider their abilities to keep them from dropping everyone into coverage or blitz with everything but the kitchen sink. They've picked up tough yards and extended drives. They haven't been overpowering or flashy; they've simply gotten the job done.

Laurence Maroney: C+ / I

Maroney, when he's played, has been good -- in some cases, very good. But he has not been consistently excellent, and that's what he's expected to be. Still, give credit where credit is due. Maroney is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and 69.5 yards per game.

Maroney still tip-toes and dances behind the line, looking for holes instead of hitting them. It's almost as if he doesn't trust the line to open the space for him. In the open field, Maroney is excellent, even exciting to watch. But in enclosed spaces, he's barely average.

Then there's the issue of Maroney's injuries (hence the "Incomplete" grade), to which he seems overly susceptible; and when his team needs him, he isn't there, and that may have indirectly resulted in the loss of the next guy on the list.

Sammy Morris: A / I

Morris was an unexpected surprise until he was lost for the season in Week 6. New England nabbed Morris to replace veteran bruiser Corey Dillon and was expected to be a guy to pound the line and pick up tough yards while Maroney flashed and flared and made the big plays.

It turned out that Morris was an excellent back in his own right when given the change, and he got that chance when Maroney missed three straight games. Morris had back-to-back 100-yard games until he was injured. He average 4.5 yards per carry, and that was brought down in that fateful game. Minus the Dallas game, Morris averaged 4.9 yards per carry, but he was carrying more than just the football.

He was on the verge of posting career rushing numbers. Patriots fans are undoubtedly hoping they get to see more of Morris next season.

Kevin Faulk: A-

Old Reliable. Unlike Maroney, Faulk always seems to be there. He was there when Maroney missed games, and he's been there with Morris sidelined. After the loss of Morris in the Dallas game, Faulk ran the ball 12 times and gained 3.9 yards per carry, and he had 3 big receptions. Likewise, against Indy, Faulk carried the ball 7 times for 4.1 per carry and he had 3 more big receptions, including the game-winning touchdown.

Statistically, he's had bigger games, but Faulk is always there, and he always makes the play that needs to be made. That's a tribute to his versatility and his durability. There's really nothing to criticize here. The "minus" on his grade is because his stats are not quite career bests, but I wouldn't be surprised to see that grade raised at season's end.

Heath Evans: C+

Evans has plainly and simply done his job. Nothing flashy, nothing spectacular, but nothing detrimental either. He's solid.

Kyle Eckel: B-

Same as Evans, but I'll give him a little extra for being a rookie.