The Patriots are rolling midway through the season, led by Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowksi on offense. (USA TODAY Images)
The 2014 NFL season is at the halfway mark. The Patriots have played nine games and sit atop the AFC East with a 7-2 record.
While the team started slow, 2-2 through the first four weeks, New England won five-straight and rested during¬†week 10 as they prepare for the second half of the year.
Here’s how the team graded out through the first nine games. —
Offense: B +
The last five weeks, the Patriots have been on fire offensively. Tom Brady has been incredible, tossing 18 touchdown passes and only one interception. The offensive line has settled down, finding a starting five, and overall improved after a bumpy start.
Rob Gronkowski is playing on another level. His impact on the offense is incredible; whether it’s making big catches, run blocking or creating space for other receivers with opposing defensive backs gravitating towards him. As he’s gotten healthier, the team has been more deadly on offense, no coincidence.
While Julian Edelman has been pretty consistent, Brandon LaFell has emerged as a threat in the passing game. He’s struggled with drops at times, but also made some athletic plays after the catch and become a third option (after Gronkowski and Edelman) for Brady to rely on.
There are some negatives, too. Let’s not forget the struggles at the beginning of the season. The offensive line was a revolving door, the passing game was somewhat out-of-sync and the team lost Stevan Ridley for the year to a knee injury.
With Ridley sidelined, the running game has been inching along. Shane Vereen is inconsistent and third-year tailback Jonas Gray has underwhelmed. Without a more consistent rushing attack, the offense is somewhat limited. Something which needs to be addressed moving forward.
Coming into the year, expectations were high for the Patriots defense. It hasn’t been perfect, but the unit has improved as the season goes along.¬†The loss of defensive captain, Jerod Mayo, definitely hurts the team, but the Patriots have made adjustments over the past few weeks.
The additions of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner has given the secondary flexibility, depth and the ability to play more physical with opposing offenses.
The Patriots pass rush has been fairly inconsistent, but stepped up in recent weeks as the defense has gotten more aggressive. While Chandler Jones has been sidelined with a hip injury, Rob Ninkovich and recently acquired Akeem Ayers have turned up the heat. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff utilizes all three players down the road.
New England must improve in run defense, as they’ve allowed an average of 120 yards-per-game on the ground, as well as tackling. Overall, however, the unit has done a good job forcing opposing teams to settle for field goals and getting off the field on third downs.
Special Teams: A -
The Patriots special teams play has been solid most of the season. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has missed just one field goal, 24-of-25, and second-year punter Ryan Allen is averaging 46 yards-per-punt.
Matthew Slater and Don Jones have been incredible on kick coverage, as the duo consistently beats their match-ups throughout each contest. Brandon Bolden also deserves an honorary mention for his standout play and keep an eye out for Jonathan Casillas in the second half of the season.
Danny Amendola has given New England a spark on kick returns, averaging 25.4 yards-per-return. Amendola along with Julian Edelman have New England ranked as the second best punt return unit in the NFL.
While special teams can often be a forgotten phase of an NFL game, the Patriots have outplayed many of their opponents and it’s showing up week-in-and-week-out.
Coaching: B +
Perhaps my biggest criticism of the Patriots coaching staff is aimed more towards the beginning of the season. It seemed they could not settle on a starting offensive line and the unit looked out of sync.
The Patriots also have 91 penalties through nine games, and¬†will likely break the franchise record of 111 set during the 2003 season.
All that put aside, it’s been business as usual for New England. Bill Belichick has been able to overcome key injuries on both sides of the ball and the team focused on the task at hand. At 7-2, the Patriots are two wins away from an incredible fourteenth consecutive¬†winning season.
MVP: Tom Brady
A case could be made for Rob Gronkowski, but as Brady goes, the Patriots offense goes and they’re on fire. The talk of his “decline” highlighted the off-season, but Brady’s showing why he should still be considered one of the NFL’s best players.
Offensive Player: Rob Gronkowski
As he got healthier and more involved in the offense, the unit started pouring on more points. Gronkowski creates space for other receivers, makes impact blocks in the run game and his unbelievable receiving ability makes him one of the most dangerous players in the league.
Defensive Player: Darrelle Revis
The Patriots paid him $12 million this season to help transform their defense into a legitimate threat. While it hasn’t been perfect, Revis has made New England’s secondary one of the best statistical units in the NFL. His presence gives Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff the ability to game plan week-to-week for opposing offenses.
Rookie of the Year: Bryan Stork
You might not¬†think a fourth-round center would be the “rookie of the year”, but Stork has helped solidify the offensive line. There have been ups-and-downs, as there is with all rookie players, but his future is promising.
Most Surprising Addition: Brandon LaFell
When LaFell was signed, it wasn’t expected to have the type of role or impact he’s had this season. LaFell has matched his career-high in touchdowns (5); needs only 13 catches to tie his career-high in receptions (currently at 36); and is 163 yards shy of his career-high in receiving yards with eight games to play.
Most Disappointing Player: Aaron Dobson
Dobson faced an uphill battle after off-season foot surgery and his lack of special teams value has him sidelined on game days. The former second-round pick has been an afterthought this season.
Do¬†you have a Twitter account?¬†Be sure to follow me:¬†@PatriotsHaven!