The New England Patriots might be the most heavily criticized 7-1 team in the history of football.
According to some pundits, their defense is horrible, their offensive line needs a shakeup, and they won’t be able to win a Super Bowl playing at their current level. Meanwhile, they’re clearly the best team in the NFL.
Here are some realistic midseason grades as New England heads into its bye week.
Jimmy Garoppolo was an A, Jacoby Brissett was a B- and Tom Brady has been an A+. We’ll round up and call it an A, only because Brady actually has been an A++ or A+++++++.
Brady is completing 73.1 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 9.8 yards per attempt while improving his deep ball and mobility. His 133.9 passer rating would be the best of all time if the season ended Wednesday
Patriots quarterbacks have yet to throw an interception this season. Pretty solid.
LeGarrette Blount only is averaging 3.8 yards per carry, but he’s had some tremendous games and is on pace for career highs with 609 rushing yards and nine touchdowns through eight games.
James White has been a typical Patriots third-down back, catching 29 passes for 258 yards with three touchdown receptions. He’s also averaging over four yards per carry on the ground.
Fullback James Develin hasn’t looked like himself this season.
Chris Hogan, despite losing a fumble, has been a great addition. Patriots quarterbacks have a 137.5 passer rating while targeting him.
Julian Edelman doesn’t look like himself as he recovers from an offseason foot surgery, but he still has 41 catches for 358 yards with a touchdown on the season.
Danny Amendola is catching 80 percent of his targets in limited snaps, while rookie Malcolm Mitchell has been up and down.
Rob Gronkowski far and away is the best tight end in the NFL, and Martellus Bennett, while playing through an ankle injury, has been a quality addition.
Together, Gronkowski and Bennett are on pace for 106 catches for 1,772 yards with 14 touchdowns. Since Gronkowski missed two games and didn’t produce in two more, expect those stats to be even greater at the end of the season.
Marcus Cannon, Nate Solder and Joe Thuney have been good, David Andrews has been OK, and Shaq Mason has struggled.
Cannon (somewhat surprisingly) has been the Patriots’ best pass protector, while Thuney and Solder have shined in run defense. The stats bear this out. The Patriots have averaged 4.0 yards per carry to the right side of the line, 3.7 to the middle and 4.4 to the left.
Mason’s best game of the season came in Week 8, so perhaps he turned a corner before the bye.
Overall, the Patriots’ offensive line is better than last year’s, but they’re still allowing too much pressure. They’re 22nd in the NFL in sack percentage.
Chris Long has been New England’s most steady edge defender, though most of his pressure has come on hurries rather than sacks or QB hits. Long has been a strong run defender.
Jabaal Sheard hasn’t quite taken his game to the next level, as expected. Trey Flowers has had his moments as an interior pass rusher, though he lacks consistency.
Rob Ninkovich might still be limited by a triceps injury. He hasn’t been pressuring the quarterback at a rate as high as in past years.
Alan Branch looks rejuvenated this season, providing disruption mostly in the run game, though he has pressured the quarterback at times, as well.
Malcolm Brown has taken a step forward this season and is a dependable presence in the middle of the Patriots’ defense line.
Undrafted free agent Woodrow Hamilton played well in limited snaps, while Vincent Valentine, who missed time with a back injury, has been fine for a rookie.
The Patriots haven’t received steady pressure from the middle of their defense, though their primary role is in run defense.
It’s never a good sign when one of a team’s starting linebackers is traded for a third-round pick eight games into the season.
Dont’a Hightower has been solid and at times dominant, while Jamie Collins, before being traded was inconsistent and at times dominant.
Rookie Elandon Roberts has played well enough that the Patriots felt safe in trading Collins.
Barkevious Mingo mostly has played on special teams while Shea McClellin has yet to carve out a consistent role.
Malcolm Butler has been a solid A, while the Patriots still are trying to figure out how to order the rest of their cornerback depth chart.
Logan Ryan, Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman all have had up and down moments, though all of their struggles have been exaggerated.
Rookie Cyrus Jones drags this grade down for being a healthy scratch for three games in a row.
There haven’t been many negative moments from Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung or Duron Harmon this season. It’s the best safety trio in the NFL.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was shaky until turning in a perfect performance in Week 8. Punter Ryan Allen has been solid, and New England is near the top of the NFL leaderboard both in starting field position on offense (30.03-yard line, sixth) and defense (23.80-yard line, first).
The Patriots have fumbled too frequently in special teams, with Jones, Edelman and Matthew Slater all coughing up the football.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images