BOSTON (CBS) – With the Patriots getting a little break during their bye week, we’ve had enough time to grade the team through the first nine games of the season.
New England is 7-2 and their stock should be on the rise with some key players coming back, but there is plenty of room for improvement.
Here are my midterm grades for the Patriots so far:
Tom Brady: C
I think I may be an easy grader when it comes to Brady. The Pats gave him rookie receivers to start the season and he was without Rob Gronkowski. To make matters worse, newcomer Danny Amendola got hurt in Week 1.
Brady hasn’t had much to work with, but at the same time he hasn’t been all that sharp either. The season called for patience, and early on Tom did not have much. He’s gotten better lately and had his best game of the year against the Steelers, throwing for a season-high 432 yards and four touchdowns, so maybe it’s all coming together for TB12.
Wide Receivers: C
It’s hard to give a solid grade to players who are basically playing in their first NFL season and are needed to compete at a high level. The train doesn’t stop for anyone here in New England and Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins have both found that out. Thompkins was the go-to rook in the beginning and Dobson seems to be the go-to rook now. But fourth-round pick Josh Boyce has fallen off the map, and we really don’t know what his deal is.
Amendola has battled injuries but has been productive when he’s on the field. Julian Edelman got off to a hot start in place of Amendola, but has cooled as of late.
This has been a good start for a group made up mostly of newcomers and rookies, so let’s see how they do going forward.
Running Backs: B-
This position was shaky at the get-go. Stevan Ridley had a rough first game and was benched in favor of Shane Vereen. Vereen lit it up against Buffalo in Week 1, but hurt his wrist and won’t be back until week 11. The Pats have had to regroup and the running backs have done a pretty good job.
Ridley has 514 yards on 118 carries, good for over four yards per carry. Plus, he’s chipped in with six rushing touchdowns and regrouped nicely after a fumble against the Steelers in Week 9. Brandon Bolden is averaging over five yards per carry and is improved his catching ability out of the backfield. Big boy LeGarrette Blount has given the Pats the power runner that they have been looking for, and is even chipping in in the return game.
The running backs have been better than expected without Vereen.
Tight Ends: INC
The Patriots entered this season a little thin at the tight end position with Gronkowski shelved for the first ## weeks and Aaron Hernandez, well you know what happened to him.
In Gronk’s absence, the Pats called upon Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan to fill the void, but those are some pretty big shoes to fill.
Gronk has looked better each week since he returned in Week 7, returning to his usual-self with a nine-catch for 143 yards and a touchdown performance against the Steelers last week, but we’ll give him a few more weeks before we start grading the group as a whole.
Offensive Line: C-
Tom Brady has been sacked 26 times in nine games this season. He was sacked 27 times all of last year.
It hasn’t helped that the offense has gone through so many changes, but things are not that great on the Patriots’ offensive line. Guys are injured and the backups seem to be getting beat. This season, Logan Mankins has let up more sacks than he has in the past.
They have picked up their play lately, but so overall it has been less than what’s expected from the group tasked with protecting Brady.
Defensive Line: B-
The loss of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly has made the Pats’ defensive front a lot thinner than expected (no pun intended). Joe Villano and Chris Jones have stepped in and done their best but it’s obvious they are not the caliber of Wilfork and Kelly.
But there has been a boost though in getting to the quarterback. Chandler Jones has 8.5 sacks and rookie Chris Jones has five. Jones is on pace for 15 this season, and would become just the second Patriots with 15 or more sacks in a single season (joining Hall of Famer Andre Tippett).
Rob Ninkovich has kept his title as right guy in the right place, and this group is making due with what they have.
Everything was going fine with this group until they lost Jerod Mayo, the unquestioned leader of the group. Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower have stepped in and done well, as rookie Jamie Collins has also seen his snap count rise.
Coming into this season this was a prime concern for the Patriots, but as long as Aqib Talib is on the field they are top notch.
Kyle Arrington is above average in the slot and Alfonzo Dennard is strong on the other side, and Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty have done a good job at safety. This is the second best group the Pats have been able to put out on the field through nine games.
Special Teams: A
Ryan Allen has proven himself as a very good punter, and picking him over Zoltan Mesko at the end of the preseason was the right choice.
Stephen Gostkowski may be the team’s MVP at the moment, as he’s booting touchbacks like the Pats want him to and has hit 17 consecutive field goals. He’s been automatic for all ranges.
This may be the best coaching job by Bill Belichick and his staff. They’ve had injuries to key players, had to start rookies and insert new players. Brady hasn’t been on his game for the whole season and the Pats are still one of the teams to beat in the NFL.
The staff has kept the Patriots relevant through all the changes, and Belichick deserves a pat on the back for it.
Follow Levan Reid on Twitter @LevanReid.
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