In the Red Zone

Grading the Patriots First Half

Eight games into the NFL season is a good time to get a feel for how the 5-3 New England Patriots are doing along with some grades.

The coaching staff has done a pretty good job.  They’ve taken a lot of young players on both sides of the ball and are mixing them in fairly well. 

My points of contention with the staff are the flow of the play calling which I discussed a week or so ago.  Even though they lead the league in scoring and yards gained offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels needs to open this puppy up.  He has to realize he’s driving a sports car and not a family sedan.  The tools are there he needs to use them.

My other contention is the secondary coaching.  The cornerbacks and safeties coaches need to get these guys to play smarter and get better positioning.  There has been an incredible amount of pass interference penalties garnered by the Patriots DBs and that needs to stop.

Overall I give the staff a B minus.

Like in years past the offense is going to carry this team and as soon as McDaniels realizes that he has Tom Brady at the controls and not Tim Tebow the team will be better off.

This team has lost games this season for the mere fact that the offense didn’t make convertible plays to continue drives or with some poor play calling down the stretch.  By converting on some of these all three losses could very well be wins.

The offensive line has had its ups and downs this season.  They have had games when they’ve done a great job protecting Brady and others where they weren’t so good.  They’ve had games when the team has been able to run the ball at will and a couple where they haven’t.  They need to be more consistent and with the occasional absence of G Logan Mankins and the loss of G Brian Waters the line isn’t the same.

I give the offensive line a B minus/C plus.

The skill players on offense have been very good.  The receivers, with the exception of drops on catchable balls, have done well.  The group as a whole, Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Julian Edelman have all contributed. 

The wide receivers get a B.

The tight ends, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells and Mike Hoomanawanui are among the best in the league with Gronk being All-World and Hernandez, when healthy, a close second.  Fells and Hoomanawanui have both played small parts but have done what's been asked.

The tight ends get an A minus.

The running backs have added a dimension this team hasn’t had in a while and may possibly never have had before and that’s a three-headed monster of Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden.  And lately even the oft-injured Shane Vereen has seen a spike in playing time and been productive when given the chance.  All four add something to the team and are becoming extremely valuable.

The running backs get a B plus.

And that leaves us with Tom Brady.  13 seasons into one of the most illustrious careers in NFL history he is slowing no signs of slowing down.  He has been good but not as good as he can be.  He has had games this year where he has been a bit inaccurate and not as sharp as he can be.  But when put in the hurry up no huddle offense he is a pure assassin.

The quarterback gets a B; the offense as a whole gets a B as well.

Defensively this team is a tale of two different units.  The run stoppers vs. the pass defenders and the run stoppers are top notch. 

A front seven that has two big ass lineman in the middle in Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love with several athletic ends led by rookie Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham and a swarming group of linebackers led by Jerod Mayo, 3rd year player Brandon Spikes and rookie Dont’a Hightower are really good against the run. 

It’s the pass defense that is suspect.  There have been too many penalty flags against the secondary, especially in the known passing downs.  Plus they’ve given up an exceptional amount of big pass plays.  I hate to bring it up but the Seattle game was just brutal especially against a rookie quarterback who has been nothing but average.  With the exception of Jones and Ninkovich there hasn’t been much of a pass rush either.

But even with the big plays against them somehow the team is 12th in the league in points allowed when they should be much worse.

Defensively I give the run stopping front seven a B plus and the secondary a D.  Overall the defense as a whole gets a C minus.

The team I am going to undergrade.  I realize they should probably be higher but there’s a lot of untapped potential here and they need to make the adjustments that take them from a good team to a very good or great one.  Bill Belichick teams have a history of having great second halves and playing their best football after Thanksgiving and I expect more of that in 2012.

Overall the team is given a C plus.

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Patriots Acquire Talib

On Thursday afternoon the New England Patriots made a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to acquire some defensive backfield help.

New England got CB Aqib Talib and a 7th round pick in 2013 in exchange for a 4th round pick in the same draft.

Albert Breer of the NFL Network talked to some NFL execs that weighed in on the deal saying Talib is a “good player, but a head case. Will help, if he buys in.”

Another exec added that he has “No. 2 corner ability.  He’s got talent, but discipline, consistency are issues.  Better athleticism than technique.”

This move may also allow the Patriots to move Devin McCourty from cornerback to safety on a regular basis.

ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss resets the 2013 Patriots draft picks after the deal.

News and Notes

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick had his weekly day after conference call with the media on Monday.  (

QB Tom Brady had his weekly Patriots Monday call in. (WEEI)

Offensive snaps by skill players vs. St Louis  (ESPN Boston)

Defensive snaps played vs. Rams (ESPN Boston)

Patriots defense improved with exotic pressure packages (Boston Globe)

Welker thinks he’s okay after injuring his ankle vs. Rams. (Boston Herald)

Since 1999 the Patriots have the best record in the NFL at 152-64.

Since 2003 New England is 35-7 in October games.

New England is 65-35 on the road since 2000.

The Patriots lead the all-time series 7-5 vs. the Rams, which includes a Super Bowl win.

The Patriots are 4-2 as the road team in the series.

New England had 473 yards of offense on Sunday for the 17th consecutive game.  They broke the tie with St. Louis for most consecutive games a team has had at least 350 yards in offense.

Patriots released LB Bobby Carpenter and CB Sterling Moore during the bye.  They signed LB Mike Rivera and LB Derrick Martin.  TE Alex Silvestro was released from the practice squad.

Bill Belichick’s 197 wins are good for 8th all-time.  He is now 197-107 including playoffs in his career.

Belichick coached teams are 5-1 vs. the Rams, he is 4-1 with New England including a Super Bowl win.

Tom Brady is 3-1 vs. the Rams including 1-0 in the Super Bowl.  Overall including playoffs he is 145-44.

Brady was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against St Louis.

Brady has 316 TD passes in his career he is now 5th all-time.  Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton is 4th with 342.

Brady has thrown at least 1 TD pass in 40 consecutive games.

The Patriots are 85-16 when Brady throws at least 2 TD passes in a game.

WR Wes Welker now has catches in 109 consecutive games including playoffs, 92 as a Patriot.  The last time Welker did not have a catch in a game was 12/24/05 as a Dolphin.

LB Jerod Mayo and LB Brandon Spikes led the team on Sunday with 8 tackles each.  Mayo now has a team high 92 tackles and Spikes is 2nd with 68.

Mayo also forced a fumble for the second week in a row.  He now has 2 forced fumbles on the season.  DE Rob Ninkovich leads the team with 4 forced fumbles.

Ninkovich and DE Chandler Jones each had a sack against the Rams.  Ninkovich is now 2nd on the team in sacks with 5, Jones leads the team with 5.

The Patriots sacked St Louis Rams QB Sam Bradford 2 times, while Brady and Ryan Mallett were not sacked.

Jeff Fisher in his 18th season as a NFL head coach is 145-125.  He is 5-6 in the playoffs all with Tennessee/Houston for an overall record of 150-131.

He is 1-6 vs. New England (including the playoffs) in his career, 0-1 with St Louis.

Sam Bradford is 11-23 in his career as a starting QB. 

He is 0-1 vs. the Patriots.

St. Louis is 2-4 vs. New England as the home team in the series.

New England is PLUS 13 in turnover differential. The offense has given up 3 INT and 4 fumbles, while the defense has 9 INTs and 11 fumble recoveries. 

The Patriots are 57 for 117 (48.7%) in 3rd down efficiency and 1 for 3 (33.3%) on fourth down attempts.  Opponents are 43 for 101 (42.6%) in 3rd down efficiency and 4 for 10 (40%) on 4th down attempts.

New England is 24 of 38 (63.1%) in the red zone while opponents are 11 for 18 (61.1%) in the red zone in 2012.

In goal to go situations New England is 19 for 26 (73.1%) and opponents are 8 for 11 (72.7%).

Next Week

The Patriots will have their bye week.  When they return they host the Buffalo Bills on November 11 at Gillette Stadium.  Kick off is at 1 p.m. on CBS.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveMichaelsII