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Patriots News 11-13, Midseason Grades For The Roster

Steve Balestrieri
Steve Balestrieri on Twitter
4 weeks ago at 5:00 am ET
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary

Patriots News 11-13, Midseason Grades For The RosterNov 6, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) reacts as he runs onto the field before a game against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning; Here are your Patriots news 11/13. I hope that all of my fellow veterans had a happy and safe Veterans Day. De Oppresso Liber. 

This week, the Patriots are on a bye week which will allow fans to relax and watch some games from the other teams in the conference. There are games that could influence the standings in the division as well as the conference. 

Obviously, all eyes will be on the Minnesota-Buffalo game and whether Bills QB Josh Allen is able to play. The elbow injury he suffered could end up being a long-term lingering issue and could adversely impact the Bills’ offense. The 6-2 Bills face the surprising 7-1 Vikings, a team the Patriots will play on Thanksgiving. And then turn around and face Buffalo at Gillette the following week. 

The Dolphins and Browns will match up in Miami, which will have obvious division implications. If Miami wins and a Josh Allen-less Buffalo loses to Minnesota, they would have one more win than Buffalo. A loss would drop them a half-game behind the Jets and just a half-game ahead of New England.

Quick Hitters For the Patriots and the NFL:  

DeMarcus Covington: The Patriots’ defensive line coach is considered a rising star in the coaching ranks. He’s been with the Patriots for six years, and after starting at the bottom, like all of Bill Belichick’s coaches, he’s worked his way up from coaching assistant to outside linebackers coach and is now been the defensive line coach for the past three years. Belichick likes his coaches to work their way up through the system and puts more responsibility on them as they master one job; he’ll place more responsibility on them. 

For those who are interested in such things, Covington’s background wasn’t on defense. He was a wide receiver at Samford University. 

And although the Patriots have two de-facto defensive coordinators in Jerod Mayo and Steve Belichick, Covington’s players believe he has the skill to be a defensive coordinator in the league. 

Carl Davis told NESN that he will be an excellent defensive coordinator. “The attention to detail that he has, I think he could be a great defensive coordinator,” Davis said. “The way he sees the game, he’s been around the game a long time. … I just keep saying the words ‘details, details,’ because that’s so important.”

Davon Godchaux went even further, stating that Covington could be a head coach. “He’s so detailed — great head coach one day,” said Godchaux. 

From Patriots.com:  Under Covington’s guidance in 2019, Jamie Collins Sr. set career highs with seven sacks and three interceptions as part of a defense that finished No. 1 in the NFL in total defense (275.9 yards per game) and scoring (14.1 points allowed per game). He was the only player in the NFL with six or more sacks and three or more interceptions in 2019. No other Patriot has reached those marks in the same season. Kyle Van Noy also set a single-season career-high with 6½ sacks and earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors following a Week 4 win at Buffalo when he led the team with eight tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, and two forced fumbles.

Frank Reich: The former Colts’ head coach was fired after an ugly showing in Foxboro last weekend in Indy’s 26-3 loss. And immediately, people were calling for Belichick to hire Reich as offensive coordinator, including Mike Tanier of Football Outsiders. 

As we mentioned above, Bill Belichick likes to promote coaches from within the organization. Reich will probably get another head coaching gig after the season. So, for those reasons, I doubt we’ll see Reich on Belichick’s staff. 

Patriots 4th & 2 Podcast: If you haven’t checked out our PatsFans.com podcast, “Patriots 4th & 2”, in a bit, please check it out. Russ, Derek, and I looked at the victory over the Colts, the bye week, and how they match up against the Jets. 

Russ Francis/Chuck Fairbanks: The former Patriot tight end and head coach both should be in the Patriots team Hall of Fame, and the fact that especially Francis isn’t is an absolute travesty. Francis and the Raiders’ Dave Casper changed the game with how teams used the tight end position…this will be on our Sunday posts until it happens.

Patriots Positional Report Card At the Halfway Point: 

The Patriots go into the bye week at 5-4, exactly where they were a year ago. However, unlike a year ago, this year’s slate of remaining games from this point forward is the 2nd toughest in the NFL and features the Bills (twice), Miami, the Jets, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.

So, here are our grades at the mid-point of the season.

Quarterback: C

Mac Jones, Bailey Zappe, Bryan Hoyer (very briefly), and Garrett Gilbert (PS) have all had good and bad moments this year. Jones was injured in Week 3 and missed a month. But he’s back in as the starter, and things haven’t gone smoothly. 

His season numbers, 111-for-168 (66.1%), 1,140 yards, 4 TDs, 7 INTs, for a passer rating of 76.0, don’t tell the entire story. The Patriots installed a new offense this year with a new offensive coordinator and play-caller. The offensive line has been a mess overall, while the play design (with Jones under center) has been woefully uncreative.

A lot has to change in the second half of the season, a more creative play design, much better OL protection (more below), and better decisions and pocket presence by Jones if the Patriots are going to compete against a very tough schedule. 

Running Backs: B

Rhamondre Stevenson has developed in Year 2 into a true three-down running back and has been the Offensive MVP  (Meyers #2) through the first half of the season. He has become a star RB in the league and has rushed for 614 yards (4.8-yard average) and 4 touchdowns thus far. He has also caught 35 passes for 227 yards and a touchdown. 

Stevenson’s yards after contact has been most impressive in the season. He’s been hit early and often in the backfield, and yet over the last month, Stevenson has gained 79 percent of his yardage after contact. 

Damien Harris began the year as the #1a back to Stevenson’s #1b, but an injury and an illness have put him firmly in #2 status. However, he’s been effective when he has been in the lineup. Harris has rushed for 302 yards (4.3-yard average), with three TDs, and has added 11 catches out of the backfield for 47 more. 

J.J. Taylor was activated off the practice squad last week but didn’t contribute much. He had 11 touches for a total of 17 yards in his only action this year. Rookies Kevin Harris and Pierre Strong are definitely in a red-shirt type of season with just cameos in the offense, although Strong has played a bit more on STs. Ty Montgomery was injured in the Miami game and hasn’t been seen since.   

Wide Receivers: C

Jakobi Meyers once again leads the team in receptions with 40, yards with 457, and touchdowns with three. He remains the go-to guy and the team’s #1 wide receiver. Take what you will from that. But he remains the most reliable, consistent WR.

DeVante Parker has been inconsistent but has also had some big moments as the jump ball contested catch guy. Although he has only 15 catches, they are for 321 yards and a TD. He is currently #2 in the league averaging 21.4 yards per catch. But the team needs more from him. 

Tyquan Thornton is earning more playing time, something as a rookie WR is no easy task in NE. After missing the first four weeks of the season on IR, he has nine catches for 81 yards with a TD and had an impressive 19-yard TD run on a Jet Sweep. He’s progressing nicely. 

Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have been enigmas this season. Agholor, the first month of the season, was off to a great start with 14 catches, 225 yards, and a TD. Since the Green Bay game, he’s had three targets in four games. And one of those went right through his hands for an interception. He has put the ball on the ground twice.

Bourne was thought to be the biggest playmaker in the passing game this year, but he’s been in the doghouse since training camp and has logged only 14 catches for 167 yards with no TDs so far. He’s only been targeted 19 times, however, which is far too few. 

Lil’ Jordan Humphreys and Lynn Bowden have only had brief stints active, while Tre Nixon and Kristian Wilkerson have remained on the practice squad all year.                                                         

Tight Ends: C

The tight ends remain far down on the option list, despite the Patriots paying premium cash for them…another enigma. Jonnu Smith has been targeted just 23 times this season, usually very close or at the line of scrimmage. He has 26 catches for 154 yards.

Hunter Henry has caught 19 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown, another disappointing start. However, there is room for a bit of optimism there since he’s caught 14 passes for 199 yards (15.1-yard average) and a TD in the past five games.

Matt Sokol appeared in the Detroit game but didn’t have any stats. 

Offensive Line: D

Easily the biggest disappointment on the team this season. Well, first, the good news. RG Michael Onwenu is having a very solid season. He hasn’t missed a beat for all of the handwringing over Shaq Mason’s trade. He’s played every snap this year, to boot. Trent Brown at LT has been okay as well. But he has given up four sacks. 

Then the troubles begin. Being a plug-and-play right guard, Cole Strange was very good for the first seven games. But in the past two games, he’s been replaced due to poor play. He’s been flagged for penalties and given up sacks. The thought here is that he hit a rookie wall with OTAs, mini-camps, training camp, preseason, and nine games. If so, then the bye week comes at a perfect time. 

David Andrews was off to a typical Andrews season before suffering a concussion and missing the past two games. The bye week comes at a good time, and he’s expected to be back for the Jets game. It couldn’t come at a better time because James Ferentz has been struggling badly in his absence. 

Right tackle has been, to put it mildly, a nightmare. Isaiah Wynn switched from LT this summer and has struggled badly with protection, penalties, and sacks allowed. The team brought back Marcus Cannon, who is still a good run blocker, but struggled badly with speed rushers. He’s now on IR with a concussion. Yodny Cajuste came off IR, and he played at RT last week. After a bad start, he got a bit better down the stretch. Andrew Steuber has been on NFI. Right tackle has to be MUCH better in the next 8 games. 

 Defensive Line: B

The Patriots’ defensive line has suffered injuries to Lawrence Guy and Christian Barmore, but despite that, has been mostly very good this season. Guy is rounding back into form as a very steady and solid piece upfront. Barmore is a star in the making, and he should be a cornerstone of the defense for years to come. 

Davon Godchaux got a nice extension this spring and has turned that into some quality football this season. Deatrich Wise was made a captain this summer, which turned into a huge plus for him. He’s been an absolute ironman on the line and has notched 5.5 sacks, the most in his career. He’s logged 461 snaps on defense and 71 on STs. 

Carl Davis and Daniel Ekuale are subpackage depth pieces who have played well. Sam Roberts is a developmental small-school stud who has seen a bit of action in four games. Jeremiah Pharms and LaBryan Ray are on the PS but could have a role in 2023.  

Linebackers: A-

The linebackers, in many circles, are still considered a group that needs upgrading. Maybe but the view from here is that they’ve been playing very well thus far. 

And the linebacker play begins with Matthew Judon, who has been …incredible. Judon currently leads the NFL in sacks with 11.5, third in the league in QB pressures, three passes defensed, a forced fumble, and 10 tackles for loss (TFL).

JaWhaun Bentley has played very well in the middle, and is a force against the run, while providing good pass rush ability when called upon. Jahlani Tavai has been a pleasant surprise, providing solid run-stuffing and coverage skills. 

Anfernee Jennings, Mack Wilson, and Raekwon McMillan haven’t got as many snaps but have provided good depth and play ability. Their consistency can be better, but that comes with more playing time. 

It seemed like another lost season for Josh Uche. He had one tackle through the first month of the season. But in the past two weeks, he’s had four sacks, four TFLs, and three QB hits. Has the light finally come on for him. If so, the pass rush will be even better down the stretch. He will bear watching the final half of the season.   

 Secondary: B+

The Patriots’ secondary was considered one of the weak spots for the team heading into the season. But it has hardly worked out that way. Jonathan Jones has been one of the biggest (positive) surprises this year. He has always been an excellent slot corner, but the move to outside boundary corner has been much better than expected. He’s playing like a #1 shut-down corner. He has two INTs, one for a pick six.

Jalen Mills has played well this season with a pair of picks, providing a steady veteran presence. Another big surprise has been the play of Jack Jones, who, according to PFF, has been the highest-graded secondary player this season. Fellow rookie Marcus Jones has also scored highly for PFF. 

Myles Bryant continues to be (for reasons unknown) the top slot corner. Shaun Wade has only seen action in one game. 

Kyle Dugger is turning into a star in the secondary and like Barmore, should be a cornerstone of the defense for years to come. Devin McCourty is still playing at a high level at age 35, and leads the team in defensive snaps, with 2 picks and 5 PDs. 

Safety depth is among the best in the league; Adrian Phillips and Jabrill Peppers are very versatile and important players. Peppers started off a bit slowly, recovering from a torn ACL, but he’s rounding into form now.  His physicality and versatility make one wonder how the team will get all four into the game. And they have second-year player Joshuah Bledsoe, who is a developmental player. 

Special Teams: B

What more can we say about Nick Folk? He has been Mr. Automatic all season. His streak of consecutive field goals inside of 50 yards was snapped at 64 a few weeks ago. Since then, he’s made 10 in a row. He’s been incredible. 

Joe Cardona has been his usual solid self since we never hear of a bad snap. Matthew Slater and Brenden Schooler have been excellent; Schooler seems poised to take over for the 37-year-old Slater, who continues to be a solid presence on and off the field. 

Marcus Jones has been very good since getting a shot at returning kickoffs and punts. He seems on the verge of breaking one, every week, his punt return average is 13.4 yards per return. Expect that to go up. 

Jake Bailey has been struggling mightily. His 42.1-yard punting average is 31st in the league, his net punting average is last at just 35.3. His career net punting average is 42.8. It’s been one step forward and two steps back for him this season. 

Coaches: C 

The Patriots coaches’ season grade kind of mirrors exactly where they are, record-wise right now. They are a middle-of-the-pack team that can compete for a playoff spot. The defense can pretty much stop anyone other than a team with a mobile QB. The offense is lost right now. 

To this point, cornerbacks coach Mike Pelligrino may just be their coach of the year. No one expected the corners to have been so sticky in coverage. Steve Belichick and Jerod Mayo have also been very good. 

The coaches need to use the bye week self-scouting to figure out what they can and can’t do well and stick with what does, especially on the offense. Defensively, the coaches need to scheme up a way to stop or at least slow down mobile QBs.

Nobody can scheme up a game plan like Bill Belichick. He remains the best at it. 

Week 10 Game Predictions:

The slate of games for Week 10 and my predictions are straight up for this week.
Baltimore, Cincinnati, New York (Jets), and New England are on a bye week this weekend.

Atlanta over Carolina  0-1
Seattle over Tampa Bay (in Munich)
Minnesota over Buffalo
Chicago over Detroit
Tennessee over Denver
Kansas City over Jacksonville
Miami over Cleveland
NY Giants over Houston
New Orleans over Pittsburgh
Las Vegas over Indianapolis
Dallas over Green Bay
LA Rams over Arizona

Sunday Night Football:
San Francisco over LA Chargers

Monday Night Football:
Philadelphia over Washington

Last Week:          11—2

This Season:     84—51—1
Last Season:   182—88—1

2020 Season:   169—86—1

2019 Season:   162—93—1

______________

“Good. I try to grade myself as an individual, that’s coaches too. But I always go through and see, ‘alright, what happened on this play? Where are my feet? Where are my eyes?’ 

“As a quarterback, everything has to tie up. If it doesn’t tie up, you’ll never see everything. You don’t have enough time in the National Football League. We have a great offensive line. We’re working on the spacing and all those things, and that’s something that we need to improve on. 

“Me finding the open guy and start with my read, but also move through quicker and all of that stuff too. It’s a bunch of different things, but you can’t see everybody on every play. That’s every level of football. 

“You got to kind of start somewhere and trust what other teams do. You can always go back and look at other teams and other offenses throughout the years of how they read certain plays. That’s kind of how it works, whether that was at Alabama or last year here. Now obviously doing those things, it’s ‘how can I put my eyes in the right spot to get the people the ball?’”

Patriots quarterback Mac Jones asked how well he is seeing the field this season. (A little bit of a change-up from the normal BB quotes.)

_______________

“So, how was your week?”

Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]

Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on Stitcher and Streamyard as Russ Goldman, Derek Havens, and myself from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news and game analysis.


Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Damien Harris Devin McCourty Jakobi Meyers Josh Uche Kendrick Bourne Mac Jones Matthew Judon New England Patriots New York Jets NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rhamondre Stevenson Tyquan Thornton

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