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Patriots midseason report card: Grading Tom Brady and the offense

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How did the Patriots offense fare over the first half of the season?

We’re halfway through the season and it’s time to dish out grades for the New England Patriots. I polled the staff and created a report card. There were no rules or criteria. It could be based on your own sentiments, compared to the league, or in a vacuum. Feel free to give your own grades in the comments.

Here is the offense.

Quarterback: A+

The New England Patriots went 3-1 with Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Tom Brady is the current MVP favorite. What more can you ask from the quarterback position? It took a hand injury to a 3rd string quarterback that required surgery in order for the Patriots offense to falter. The back-ups exceeded any realistic expectation and Brady is playing better than ever.

Outlook: Can Brady keep this up? I doubt it. Look for this position to slow down a bit in the second half, as it always does.

Running Backs: B

LeGarrette Blount and James White have held down this position for the first half of the season and they’ve done a pretty good job. Blount has 640 yards from scrimmage and needs just 382 more to set a career high (less than 50 per game). He already set a career high in touchdowns with 9. He ranks 5th in the NFL in rushing yards. He has been more successful to the outside than up the middle, but he’s delivered when the team needed him most.

White has been one of the most productive receiving backs in the NFL and has made strides as both a runner and a blocker. He has 365 yards from scrimmage and 3 touchdowns on the year as the perfect complement to Blount. Neither player has been transcendent, but they’ve both achieved well.

Outlook: Add Dion Lewis and, baby, you’ve got yourself a stew going.

Wide Receivers: B/B-

The wide receivers have been a bit of a disappointment this season, although there are justifications. Julian Edelman (foot) and Danny Amendola (knee) have been recovering from injuries while Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell have been learning a new offense.

Of course, the wide receivers combined for a mere 107 yards during weeks 3 and 4 with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback (53 yards per game). In the other six games, the Patriots receivers averaged 151 yards per game.

Still, Edelman has underwhelmed and Amendola hasn’t been a full participant. Hogan seems to be growing into his role.

Outlook: The second half should be much better from this group as Hogan becomes more involved and Edelman gets more comfortable with his foot.

Tight Ends: A

I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the Patriots have the top two tight ends in the entire NFL. Maybe it’s the scheme, maybe it’s their undeniable talent, but both Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett have been extremely productive.

Despite being sidelined for most of the first four games with a bad hamstring, Gronkowski currently sits 2nd in receiving yards for all NFL tight ends with 484 and his 3 touchdowns are tied for 3rd. His 22.0 yards per reception is easily the best of any tight end with more than 5 targets.

Bennett started off the season on a torrid pace, but an ankle injury in week 5 has slowed his pace. He still ranks 7th in the NFL with 402 receiving yards (a mere 13 yards behind TE Jordan Reed and 4th place) and is tied for 1st with 4 touchdowns. Both Bennett and Gronkowski have been dominant blockers.

Outlook: This group can only get better as Bennett’s ankle heals to allow he and Gronkowski to terrorize the league.

Offensive Line: B-

After the offensive line earned a terrible grade last season, any sign of improvement would be welcome. Receiving a “B-” is leagues better than last year’s product and the Patriots have to be happy.

At tackle, Nate Solder, Marcus Cannon, and Cameron Fleming have been excellent, with probably just one or two bad days for Solder and Cannon over eight games. That’s much better than the white-knuckling performance of last season and the Patriots have had plenty of success running to the outside.

The interior of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason will have to improve, but since they’re all in their first two years in the NFL they should expect to develop. All three share a weakness in their inability to handle bull-rushing defensive tackles; Thuney and Andrews are not strong enough, Andrews and Mason are too small. Still, they’ve been far better than last year’s blockers.

Outlook: This group should continue to improve as both Solder and Cannon shake the bad technique and as Thuney, Andrews, and Mason gain more experience.

Offense: B+

This is a tough grade for an offense that ranks 5th in points per game. I think every position did roughly as well as expected; the quarterbacks overachieved and the wide receivers underachieved.

More importantly, the Patriots have to feel good about the offense continuing to improve over the second half of the season. Most positional groups are dealing with injuries that should be healed over the bye week, or are still integrating players into the offense. As time passes, the players should improve for one reason or another.

Outlook: Don’t be surprised if the second half offense receives an “A” from the graders.