Patriots Midseason Report Card
Receivers, Tight Ends, Linemen
The last installment gave the overall offense a grade of A+ and looked at the quarterbacks and running backs. Instead of rehashing any of that, let's go right to the grades for wide receivers, tight ends and the offensive line.
Wide Receivers: A+
Most Patriots fans viewed this corps of receivers with cautious optimism. Most agreed that Randy Moss was among the most talented receivers in the league -- maybe ever -- but he came with several warnings and caveats. He was not a team player, lolly-gagged, was disrespectful, got into trouble off the field, and at least one report said he was slowing down. Oh, and watch out when things "go bad." Donté Stallworth was said to be injury prone and a disappointment to his previous teams. He didn't fulfill his promise and potential.
Wes Welker was considered a steal by those who had seen him, but what would be his role and how would he fit in with the other receivers? And what of Kelley Washington and last year's carryovers. And Troy Brown and Chad Jackson who had knee surgery?
Turns out the first three -- Moss, Stallworth and Welker -- have exceeded even irrationally fantastic expectations. Brown and Jackson have only recently come off the physically unable to perform list, but the rest have been virtually nonexistent. They are, no doubt, being carried by the Big Three. The only other wide receiver to catch a pass this season is Jabar Gaffney.
Wes Welker: A+
Welker leads the team in receptions with 61. He has been everywhere. As pure a slot receiver as there ever was, Welker still lined up in every position, and he catches the ball all over the field, usually at some very opportune time. Welker is the possession receiver coaches (well, good ones) would kill for; he's redefining the role formerly owned by Patriot greats Ben Coates and Troy Brown. He's the ultimate safety valve, and with few exceptions his hands are like vacuums.
Welker is averaging a "meager" 10.7 yards per receptions (651 total yards), but it's not his job to catch the deep ball. Even so, he's second on the team in touchdown receptions -- making several great runs after the catch for scores -- with 7. Most every time he catches a ball, I wonder, "What were the Dolphins thinking?"
Randy Moss: A+
On the field, Moss is a giant among mere humans -- and not just because he's 6-foot-4. That one-handed Air Jordan catch against Indy was ludicrous (in a good way).
Moss has "only" 56 receptions to place second on the team. On the other hand, he leads the league with 12 touchdowns (21.4 percents of his catches) and receiving yards with 924 (Reggie Wayne, 870), and he's the highest scoring non-kicker in the league with 72 points. He also leads the team in yards per catch with 16.5 (for players with more than 2 catches).
Despite his reputation, Moss has been a poster boy for "team effort." He hasn't taken off a single play (not that anyone has claimed) and he always says the right thing. Tom Brady has called him a leader, and Bill Belichick has said he's one of the smartest players he's ever coached. And if Moss has lost a step, I want to see video evidence. That 51-yard touchdown against the Jets is one of the most beautiful receptions I've ever seen.
Moss, by his very presence, has changed the complexion of the Patriots offense. He has raised the level of play of the other 10 guys on the field, and that includes Brady. Brady and Moss are the living definition of synergy -- two players whose effects are greatly increased by their interaction with each other.
Donté Stallworth: B+
Stallworth has made some great catches in his own right, and his abilities in the open field can be mesmerizing. Next to Welker's and Moss's numbers, Stallworth looks pedestrian in third on the team with 28 receptions, but he tends to make the most of them. He has the longest catch of the season -- a 69-yard score, one of his three touchdowns.
Stallworth is the guy who will torch a team when they find some way to cover both Moss and Welker. Sometimes, Brady throws to him just to remind teams that he's on the field. Other times, Stallworth finds the open space and makes the play that needs to be made. He has dropped a few passes, but he's proven himself a dangerous third option. Any other season, Stallworth, who has 453 yards, would have been the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver on the team.
Jabar Gaffney: C
Gaffney earned his job over the detritus cast off from last season. Quietly, he has 12 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown. He's serviceable, a cog in the great wheel.
Kelley Washington: D+
I think I've seen him on the field once or twice. Little was expected, but what was expected was that he would be the No. 4 receiver at worst. He hasn't panned out.
Chad Jackson: I
Jackson is on the active roster, but he has yet to see any action. Last season's exceptionally high expectations for the second-round pick have been tempered by his proclivity to injury.
Troy Brown: I
Brown was cleared to practice, but the team has yet to make room for him on the active roster. Belichick said he expects there is a place for him, but that does not necessarily mean he will be a receiver.
Tight Ends: B
As a unit, this group hasn't produced as much as expected; but, they really haven't needed to. Injuries have depleted them, but their role is 180 degrees different from last season when they were expected to contribute to the passing game as much as the receivers.
Ben Watson: A- / I
Far from "tearing it up," Watson has been solid as a receiver and a blocker. He's even run the ball once. Watson has been more sure-handed than he was last year, and he was making plays before being hauled down from behind and injured by Dallas's Roy Williams (thus, the partial "incomplete" grade).
Still, 20 receptions for 232 yards and 5 touchdowns (3rd on Patriots) are respectable numbers, considering the vastly improved competition for passes.
Kyle Brady: B-
Brady was never meant to be the No. 1 tight end, but Watson's injury changed things a little. Brady has enjoyed success as a receiver, catching most of the passes coming his way (7 catches, 57 yards, 2 TD). His real value has been as a blocker on both rushing and passing plays while still posing a threat to catch a pass here and there.
David Thomas: I
Thomas was re-injured after barely returning to active duty and was placed on injured reserve.
Marcellus Rivers: D-
Rivers had two passes thrown to him (both in Washington game), and he outright dropped one right in the numbers. He's spent most of his time making like Lou Merloni.
Offensive Line: A-
Unfortunately, it's difficult to watch and analyze individual play along the line without some kind of replay ability (and usually a lot of spare time), so there will be no individual grades here.
Brady has been sacked 10 times through 9 games. He has been sacked more than once just three times (San Diego twice, Dallas thrice, Indy twice), and his uniform has been spotless three times (Jets, Bengals, Browns). That puts them on pace to allow just 18 times this season. Prior to 2007, Brady has been sacked at least 26 times every season (three straight years 2004-06).
Another testament to the protection the line has given Brady is his 4 -- four -- interceptions.
And Laurennce Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and the others have had huge holes to run through. Yes, that's also a function of Moss and the receivers drawing linebackers off the line, but the offensive line has performed great run blocking.
Keep in mind that this unit has gone through a spate of injuries, with Stephen Neal, Dan Koppen, Russ Hochstein, Ryan O'Callaghan, Billy Yates and Wesley Britt all missing games. (Makes you feel sorry for the Colts, huh?)