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BOSTON (CBS) — With much oxygen wasted throughout July and August about whether the 2012 Patriots could possibly run the table and go 16-0, it’s certainly safe to say that not many people anticipated the Patriots would be 5-3 when they hit their Week 9 bye.
Yet, thanks to a number of reasons, that’s where they are. While technically a 13-3 season is still possible, the preseason prognostications for these Patriots appear to have overestimated the team just a tad.
Despite the three losses, though, the Patriots made sure to make a statement to the rest of the NFL before their bye week, putting together a nearly perfect game in London against the Rams. They scored touchdowns on their first five possessions (averaging 75 yards per drive), allowed just seven points, racked up 321 passing yards and 152 rushing yards and thoroughly dominated the Rams in every way possible.
The grades for that game would be A’s all around, but in dishing out these midseason grades, all eight games have to be considered. That of course would include those less-than-glorious showings against the Cardinals, Seahawks and Ravens.
Today, we’ll grade the offense, so without further ado …
Passing Offense: A-
There aren’t many negatives to take away from the Patriots’ body of work in the passing game, but still, there have been games when the unit just didn’t click and properly fire on all cylinders. Hence, the A-. They may be among the class of the league, but there’s still room for improvement.
Tom Brady’s passing offense leads the league with 2,329 yards but ranks fifth in yards per game (291) and ninth in yards per attempt (7.5). With 16 passing touchdowns, the Patriots rank fifth in that category while sharing the lead for fewest interceptions with three.
For Brady specifically, he’s completed 65.3 percent of his passes, better than his career mark of 63.9 percent. His 5.33 touchdown-to-interception ratio is markedly better than his career mark of 2.68, and while he may never match his 2010 TD-to-INT ratio of 9-to-1, he’s on pace to throw 32 touchdowns and just six interceptions. That would be his fourth-most TDs and second-fewest INTs in any full season of his career — not bad for a 35-year-old.
At receiver, Wes Welker is arguably the team’s MVP through eight weeks. He leads the team in targets, receptions and yards. League-wide, he ranks tied for first in receptions, second in yards and third in targets, so all that phase-out talk from Week 1 sure seems silly now. He’s been immensely valuable, too, picking up 35 first downs and being a major reason why the Patriots rank second in the NFL with a 49 percent success rate converting third downs.
Behind Welker, Rob Gronkowski has been putting together a very worthy follow-up season to a 2011 campaign which really cannot be matched. He has scored seven touchdowns, which is tied for the team lead, and he came about a half-yard shy of No. 8 in Week 8 in London. Brandon Lloyd has been a worthy addition, even if he’s not a superstar outside receiver. He’s a valuable chain-mover, he makes some truly ridiculous catches, and he has three touchdowns, but he’s going to have to limit his drops going forward for this team to be fully operational.
Where the Patriots haven’t gotten much is from Aaron Hernandez and Julian Edelman, both due to injury. Danny Woodhead, though, has been a pleasant surprise as a receiving option, averaging 10.5 yards per catch on his 19 receptions.
Rushing Offense: B+
The rushing attack gets a B+, but in relative Patriots terms, that’s like an A++.
While the Patriots will never be a run-first team as long as No. 12 is under center, they’ve gone above and beyond the desire to be just decent enough to keep defenses honest against the pass. The Patriots rank fifth in the NFL with 149.6 rushing yards per game, with 89.5 of them coming from Stevan Ridley. The Patriots are far from the most efficient rushing team, averaging 4.3 yards per attempt and ranking ninth in that category, but considering the potency of the passing attack, it’d be hard to ask for more from the rushing game.
The aforementioned Ridley has blossomed in his second season, ranking fourth in the league with 716 rushing yards. He’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark four times already, and he’s kept his fumbles in check with just two on 156 touches.
Undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Bolden was solid when healthy, averaging 5.4 yards on his 43 carries, and Shane Vereen has been serviceable when called upon, though he’s gotten just 17 carries thus far.
The most important part of any offense, obviously, is the ability to score, and the Patriots have been able to punch it in on the ground more than any other team thus far (12).
(Fun side note: Tom Brady, though with only 12 yards on 11 rushes, has scored twice already, just one shy of his career high.)
And while Donald Thomas has done a worthy job three times filling in for an injured Logan Mankins, the offensive line should in theory get even better and deeper if Mankins returns from the bye week with restored health.
They don’t really have to improve though. More of the same would be just fine. Remember, last year the Patriots ranked 20th in yards per game (110.3) and 24th in yards per attempt (4.0), and that team made it to the Super Bowl. The fact that they rank fifth and ninth, respectively, in those categories this year gives you an idea of how much more difficult it is to defend Josh McDaniels’ system this year than Bill O’Brien’s last year.
Overall Offense Grade: A-
It’s hard to find fault with an offense that leads the league in scoring and gains 33.2 yards per game more than any other team. At the same time, it’s not wrong to believe there is still room for improvement, a thought that should be frightening for opposing defensive coordinators in the second half.