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Grading each position group ahead of Week 12

Patriots Midseason Report Card: Grading each position group ahead of Week 12 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Patriots face a harsh reality coming out of the bye week. At 2-8, they’re the worst team in the AFC. They’re scoring just 14.1 points per game — 31st in the NFL, ahead of only their Week 12 opponent, the Giants — and giving up 23.8 per game, tied for 23rd.

But believe it or not, it hasn’t been all bad for your 2023 Patriots.

With 10 games and the bye in the books, we’re digging up our Report Cards from Weeks 1 through 10 to compile a “midyear grade” for each position. There are plenty of Ds and Fs to go around — but also a few Bs and even As sprinkled in, especially on the defensive side.

Let’s see how each position group has held up in our midseason grades.

Quarterback

Week-by-week grades:

  • Week 1 vs. Eagles: B

  • Week 2 vs. Dolphins: B

  • Week 3 at Jets: B-

  • Week 4 at Cowboys: F

  • Week 5 vs. Saints: F

  • Week 6 at Raiders: C-

  • Week 7 vs. Bills: A-

  • Week 8 at Dolphins: C-

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: C

  • Week 10 vs. Colts: F

Midyear grade: C-

No surprise. This is the kind of grade that could get a player benched coming out of the bye week.

It hasn’t been all bad for Mac Jones, though. With a little more help early in the season, the Patriots might’ve come away from the first month of the season with a winning record. And his fourth-quarter game-winning drive against Buffalo was one of the highlights of his three-year career.

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But critical mistakes in embarrassing losses to the Saints, Cowboys and Colts have served as evidence of a quarterback whose time in New England is winding down.

Running back

Week-by-week grades:

Midyear grade: C+

It’s taken a while, but Rhamondre Stevenson is starting to look like the Rhamondre Stevenson of 2022. He’s running hard, bowling over would-be tacklers, and making occasionally explosive plays in the passing game as an outlet option. Ezekiel Elliott has run hard between the tackles as well, taking advantage of the one area in which New England’s offensive line has shown relatively consistent competency.

Wide receiver

Week-by-week grades:

  • Week 1 vs. Eagles: B-

  • Week 2 vs. Dolphins: C-

  • Week 3 at Jets: C

  • Week 4 at Cowboys: D

  • Week 5 vs. Saints: F

  • Week 6 at Raiders: C

  • Week 7 vs. Bills: B+

  • Week 8 at Dolphins: C

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: F

  • Week 10 vs. Colts: C-

Midyear grade: C-

What a mess this group has been. From the jump. DeVante Parker was hurt, then disappointing, then hurt again. JuJu Smith-Schuster was a non-factor to start, then came on against the Commanders, before dropping a pass that resulted in a game-sealing pick. Tyquan Thornton has been a healthy scratch and then an active non-participant in recent weeks.

Demario “Pop” Douglas is the lone reason this grade is as high as it is. Imagine if they hadn’t hit on him as a sixth-round flier back in the spring?

Tight end

Midyear grade: B-

Solid. Not spectacular. And that’s really narrowed down to two of the team’s three tight ends: Hunter Henry and Pharaoh Brown. Both have been willing blockers. Both have made significant plays in the passing game — an area in which Brown has been a pleasant surprise.

Mike Gesicki, meanwhile, has lived up to the preseason billing as being, essentially, a tall slot receiver. When asked to block, it hasn’t typically gone very well. And he’s been quiet as a receiver outside of his game-winning grab against Buffalo.

Offensive line

  • Week 1 vs. Eagles: C

  • Week 2 vs. Dolphins: D

  • Week 3 at Jets: B+

  • Week 4 at Cowboys: D

  • Week 5 vs. Saints: F

  • Week 6 at Raiders: D

  • Week 7 vs. Bills: B

  • Week 8 at Dolphins: C

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: B

  • Week 10 vs. Colts: C

Midyear grade: C-

Injuries have led to personnel being shuffled. Personnel being shuffled has led to unfamiliarity between teammates. Unfamiliarity has led to failing communication. Failing communication has led to poor play. Along with the general lack of skill exhibited by this group when forced to trot out a third or fourth-stringer to play meaningful snaps.

Of late, they’ve found something with Mike Onwenu at right tackle, mauling defenders in the running game. But there’s still far too much inconsistency here in pass protection for this to be a functioning offense when the receiver and quarterback skill levels aren’t enough to buoy the operation on their own.

Special teams

  • Week 1 vs. Eagles: B-

  • Week 2 vs. Dolphins: B+

  • Week 3 at Jets: B

  • Week 4 at Cowboys: C-

  • Week 5 vs. Saints: D

  • Week 6 at Raiders: C

  • Week 7 vs. Bills: A-

  • Week 8 at Dolphins: C

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: D

  • Week 10 vs. Colts: D

Midyear grade: C

To call this midyear grade surprising would be a massive understatement. Seems astronomically high given this unit’s performance in 2023. But there have been a handful of good enough grades to land this unit where it’s landed.

To beat Buffalo, Chad Ryland made all five of his kicks and Bryce Baringer dropped both his punts inside the 20. Baringer had a strong day in a loss to the Dolphins in Week 2 and at MetLife in a win over the Jets in Week 3. The lows here have been extremely low, though, making this one of the most disappointing units on the team given the offseason investment in this phase of the game.

Defensive line

Midyear grade: B

The Patriots defense ranks second in the NFL in yards per rush allowed (3.4) thanks in large part to this unit. Davon Godchaux is having perhaps his best season in New England, and Christian Barmore has an argument as the team’s best player across units through 10 weeks. Not only has the 2021 second-rounder been an impactful pass-rusher — since Week 6 he’s been among the most disruptive interior linemen in the game — but he’s also developed as a run-stopper. More from this unit in the passing game could elevate this mark to bordering on honors-level in the second half of the season.

Linebacker

Midyear grade: B

The second level of the Patriots defense deserves some love for the defense’s work in the running game as well. And in the passing game they were a force prior to Matthew Judon’s injury. Factor in injuries to Josh Uche as well and this unit’s work getting after quarterbacks has suffered. Still, it’s solid enough — Jahlani Tavai and Anfernee Jennings have both been pleasant surprises — to warrant being tied with the defensive line for the highest pre-bye grade on the team.

Defensive back

  • Week 1 vs. Eagles: A-

  • Week 2 vs. Dolphins: B-

  • Week 3 at Jets: B+

  • Week 4 at Cowboys: C-

  • Week 5 vs. Saints: C-

  • Week 6 at Raiders: B

  • Week 7 vs. Bills: B-

  • Week 8 at Dolphins: C-

  • Week 9 vs. Commanders: D

  • Week 10 vs. Colts: B

Midyear grade: C+

This mark may qualify as among the most disappointing. That’s due in part to injury. Losing Christian Gonzalez was a massive blow in Week 4. But it’s also due in part to Jack Jones not developing — and not only not developing but not being able to keep it together enough professionally to the point where he was released.

This unit has also missed Devin McCourty. For as versatile as the Patriots safety group may be, they are a collection of strong safeties. There is no sure-tackling true single-high player, which has hurt this team at times with some down-the-field breakdowns.

Jabrill Peppers deserves a mention here as one of the most improved players on the roster from 2022 to 2023. His physicality and overall intensity has helped give the defense an edge during a season in which, because of the team’s record, it has been difficult to dial up intensity levels.

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