By: Steve Balestrieri
With their win over the Dolphins on Sunday in the books, the New England Patriots reach the half-way point of the 2013 at 6-2 and have a two game lead in the AFC East.
Tom Brady has struggled for most of 2013.
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They are in very good position to win the division again and gain a seat for the playoffs although there is still a long way to go. It hasn’t been an easy ride however and every game has been a struggle thus far.
So at the half-way point, here are the mid-season grades by position for the Patriots offense, feel free to chip in with your own grades or ideas. We’ll put up the grades for the defense tomorrow.
This has been the Tom Brady show from the outset of the season, with Ryan Mallett being relegated to clip board duty and designated cheerleader.
Brady has all season struggled to find a rhythm with all the new faces on the Patriots offense. He’s suffering from and on pace for career lows in completion percentage, touchdowns, yardage and quarterback rating.
With an offense based on timing and throwing to a spot on the field, the struggles have a lot to do with said timing being just a little off, which is the difference between a perfect pass and one that is either slightly under or overthrown.
Brady has struggled nevertheless with his accuracy and some questionable decision making in 2013. He hasn’t exhibited his usual touch and has been throwing the ball harder than normal. He’ll need to pick up his game in the second half.
Running Backs: B
Stevan Ridley has played strong but sparingly this season.
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The Patriots have used a running back by committee and the results have been somewhat inconsistent. In games where the Patriots have rushed for 100+ yards they are 5-0. In games where they’ve rushed for less than 100 yards they are 1-2. The team has stated they wanted to have better balance this season and the results are clear to see.
The inconsistent production have had more to do with the play of the offensive line and play calling than to do with the play of the running backs thus far in 2013.
Stevan Ridley has been fine; the 1200 yard rusher from 2012 is still the best option for the Patriots in the power running game. He has the best vision of any of the backs and his timing in hitting the hole is excellent. But for some reason he has been sat for the first quarter in each of the last two games and has received limited snaps. It is no coincidence that the Patriots comeback started with a Ridley 24 yard run.
Shane Vereen was supposed to take over the Danny Woodhead role on third downs this season and provide a change of pace with more speed at running back. After a stellar first game in Buffalo, (150+ combined yards) he suffered a broken wrist and has been placed on IR-Return. He should be able to play in Carolina after the bye and should be a big boost to the offense.
LaGarrette Blount has been the second most used option in the running game and has played well with 65 carries for 265 yards and 1 TD, good for 4.1 yards per carry average. While not much of an option in the passing game, Blount is a load to tackle if he can get to the second level and has totally bought into the Patriots system and has been a good teammate in New England.
Brandon Bolden has been used in both the rushing game and passing game in Vereen’s absence (35 carries for 4.8 yard avg,17 receptions) and has performed well. He possesses more top end speed than either Ridley or Blount and gives the team a bigger potential for the big play in the passing game. But he’ll probably lose a lot of his snaps once Vereen returns to action.
James Develin is a fullback who can play H-back for the Patriots. He’s been used as a lead blocker but hasn’t carried the ball yet in limited action in 2013. He has caught two passes out of the backfield for 19 yards.
Wide Receivers: C
With a totally revamped wide receiving core in 2013, growing pains were expected, and with many of the players being rookies thrown into the mix, it has made the transition for not only the rookies because there are three, but for Brady as well.
Brady has said that finding the comfort level in this offense takes two to three years, the learning curve for the rookies has been accelerated and they’re learning on the job. It hasn’t always been pretty, but they’re improving.
The rookie combination of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins has had its growing pains for the Patriots.
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Aaron Dobson had some big struggles early in the season, running wrong routes and with drops, something that continues to plague him, albeit to a lesser degree. But he’s continuing to evolve and improve as Brady’s outside receiving threat. He has 26 catches for 324 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Kenbrell Thompkins had a fantastic summer but once the games were for real, he too struggled with drops before beginning to emerge as a more reliable option. But since his clutch catch in the closing seconds for the game-winning touchdown against the Saints, he’s been an after-thought in the passing offense. He only played 14 snaps against Miami and wasn’t targeted. He has 23 catches for 334 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Julian Edelman entered the season as the only active wideout who had caught a pass from Brady. After an early injury to Danny Amendola, Edelman assumed the mantle as Brady’s go-to guy and has been having a career year while still doing an excellent job as the Patriots punt returner. Edelman leads the team with 48 receptions for 462 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Danny Amendola was signed as the Patriots big free agent splash during the 2013 off-season. He came with the baggage as a talented but oft-injured player and this season has been no exception. After a big first game, he missed a few games with a torn groin muscle before returning and then suffering a concussion against the Saints. He missed the Jets game but returned on Sunday. He’s got 19 receptions for 174 yards on the season. If he can stay on the field, his numbers will should go way up.
Austin Collie was brought on just a few weeks ago and like Amendola is a very talented wide receiver with injury (concussion) issues. He’s a veteran who should see his role increase as the season progresses. He did have two big catches in the final drive of the Saints game. For the season he has 3 catches but as he becomes more comfortable in the offense will see more action his way from Tom Brady.
Josh Boyce was a 4th round draft pick this season and has potentially more upside than either Dobson or Thompkins. But he hasn’t picked up the offense as well as the other players and has been not seeing the field in the early going appearing in only 4 games in very limited action. This is kind of a red-shirt season for Boyce who will be looked at to provide much more in his second season.
Tight Ends: C-
The Patriots tight end position in the off-season was considered its number one position of strength. Although Rob Gronkowski was recovering from surgery, Aaron Hernandez was thought to be the focal point of the offense until the rookies and new faces found their rhythm with Brady…and then Father’s Day.
Rob Gronkowski has returned to action and will be a big part of the New England passing game down the stretch.
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So the team entered the season with a rookie (Zach Sudfeld) and veterans with good blocking acumen but very limited in their pass catching abilities. Sudfeld struggled and was jettisoned. While the veterans have done a good enough job run blocking, the production in terms of passing has been way down.
Rob Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season recovering from numerous arm and back surgeries. In his first game back against the Jets Gronkowski played in 51 snaps and had 8 catches for 114 yards. He was much more limited against Miami playing in only 33 snaps but seems to be getting his timing back with Brady.
Once he’s back to full health he’s arguably the best all-around tight end in the NFL. Through the first two games back, Gronk has 10 catches for 141 yards.
Michael Hoomanawanui is a good versatile run blocker and has been the primary tight end for the majority of the season. He’s not a big target in the passing game though but has chipped in with 8 receptions for 95 yards on the season.
Matthew Mulligan is a decent sized (6’4, 258) tight end known more for his blocking skill than his pass receiving. He spent three years with the Jets and one with the Rams. He’s only caught one pass this season for one yard but it was an important one, a touchdown against the Falcons in Atlanta.
Offensive Line B-
The Patriots offensive line hasn’t performed up to their normal expectations this season. Normally a very stout unit in protecting the quarterback, they’ve had their issues allowing 23 sacks in the first 8 games.
Brady has been sacked less than 30 times in eight of the past nine seasons but he’s already been sacked nearly that so far and is on pace for 46 in 2013.
The run blocking side of the equation has been inconsistent but overall good with them averaging 120 yards per game and 4.2 yards per carry.
While their inconsistent play is partially to blame, Bill Belichick says that everything must be accounted for and having inexperienced wide receivers and facing third and long this season contributes to their struggles.
“It’s a combination of all of it. There’s certainly room for improvement everywhere, including on the coaching end,” Belichick told the Boston Globes’ Shalise Manza-Young. “A couple times the play we had on wasn’t a good play against the defense we happened to face. We have to stay out of that situation or find a different way to handle it. Things have come up a couple times on our end, too.
“We all just have to do a better job across the board.”
The offensive line suffered a major injury on Sunday with RT Sebastian Vollmer going down with a serious leg injury, thought to be season-ending, (possible broken leg). In his stead Marcus Cannon came in and played well against the Dolphins. But he’ll be under the microscope the rest of the way.
Vollmer and LT Nate Solder have been solid all season across the board. The issues have come inside, while LG Logan Mankins remains a solid, mauling run blocker, the center position of Ryan Wendell and RG Dan Connolly have struggled in pass protection and run blocking.
Connolly has had injury issues with concussions for quite some time and has missed time this season. The line will have to play better down the stretch for the Patriots to make any noise in the playoff picture this season.