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Patriots midseason report card: Grading Devin McCourty and the defense

How did the Patriots defense 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 defense.

Defensive Tackles: B/B+

DT Alan Branch is playing at a Pro Bowl level, while Malcom Brown has continued to perform as one of the better run defenders in the NFL. Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton were playing well in limited time before injuries affected their availability.

The difficulty with grading the Patriots defensive tackles is that they’re rarely asked to rush the quarterback. This makes the Patriots players look bad when compared to disruptive defensive linemen on other teams. It’s hard to give these players an A when there’s no one able to generate any pressure up the middle.

Outlook: This grouping looks steady and should remain consistent over the second half of the season as Valentine and Hamilton re-enter the rotation.

Edge Defenders: C

This is the lowest grade on the report card because no player is living up to expectations. Jabaal Sheard has underwhelmed in his second season, while Chris Long appears to struggle once the offensive lineman latches on. Trey Flowers has been underutilized.

Rob Ninkovich could be the spark the team needs, but when you’re relying on a 32-year-old to revitalize your positional group, you’re in for a bad time.

Outlook: Honestly, this might get worse as the older players wear down over the course of the season, unless the coaching staff can change up the game plan #FreeTreyFlowers.

Linebackers: B/B-

The Patriots entered the season prepared for Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower to take over the league. The two were on the field together for just 42.9% of the defensive snaps due to injuries and whatever actually happened to get Collins sent to Cleveland.

Elandon Roberts has been a pleasant surprise after Jonathan Freeny was lost for the year with shoulder injuries. Roberts is going to be the starter next to Hightower moving forward. Shea McClellin has been underwhelming.

The Patriots have also acquired Barkevious Mingo and Kyle Van Noy to help out moving forward.

Outlook: You’re lying if you know what’s going to happen. Apparently the coaching staff wants to get Mingo more involved. We’ll have to wait and see.

Cornerbacks: B/B-

Malcolm Butler has been a stud this year and should have deserved consideration for All Pro (not that he’ll get it, but he deserves a few votes). Everyone else has been a disaster.

Logan Ryan was benched after he was on pace to allow the most catches of any cornerback in the past decade. Justin Coleman appeared to have been a healthy scratch for two weeks, while Cyrus Jones was benched for three weeks after getting ejected against the Browns.

Eric Rowe was acquired in early September and he has started the past two weeks- but it hasn’t gone overly well and Ryan will probably be the starter again in week 10.

Outlook: This roller coaster has no end in sight, unless someone is able to step up. Rowe and Coleman are sophomores and Jones is a rookie, so they should be trending upwards. Maybe Ryan can regain his mojo.

Safeties: A-

Devin McCourty has been playing at an extremely high level and might be the third best player on the defense, behind Hightower and Butler. He has been asked to do more as the cornerbacks have struggled and he has risen to the occasion.

Patrick Chung has not been consistent this season, following up dominant performances with games where he can’t seem to cover back-up tight ends. His tackling has been a problem this year.

Duron Harmon has been his normal “pretty good” self on the back end when the Patriots need McCourty closer to the line of scrimmage. Harmon’s going to get a nice paycheck after this season.

Outlook: If Chung can improve his tackling, then this positional group is good to go. He is the only weak link out of the safeties right now.

Defense: B/B-

The defense has been improving since week 3, but there are still glaring weaknesses without a fix on the horizon. Many of the defensive deficiencies have been and will be covered up by the offense scoring a lot of points.

Can the Patriots ever establish a pass rush? Who will replace Jamie Collins? Which player will be the #2 cornerback this week? Can Patrick Chung reclaim his tackling ability?

Outlook: The coaching staff is going to have their hands full in the second half of the season.