6 rings: patriots bye-week report card
The Patriots officially left for the break on Wednesday afternoon, which means it’s time to unleash the annual bye-week Report Card.
Fair warning: At 2-8 and in last place in the AFC East, the football team in New England is not a good one, and their grades will reflect as such. As our good friend Andy Hart always says: the truth is never mean.
Here are the grades for each position group:
Starting off with the most important and most closely looked at position in football, the Patriots quarterback situation is arguably the worst in the NFL.
Through 10 games, starter Mac Jones has 10 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, has been benched three times, and heading into New England’s bye week may very well not even be in game uniform for the Pats’ next contest against the Giants on November 26.
The problem with that? The “talent” behind him isn’t much better. Backup Bailey Zappe has come in relief for Jones in all three instances and has completed just 40% of his pass attempts while failing to lead the Patriots’ offense to any points. Meanwhile, third-stringer Will Grier has hardly played actual football since his senior year at West Virginia in 2018, and when he did it was as a rookie in Carolina, where he threw zero touchdowns and four interceptions.
Honestly, a D- might be generous.
Running Backs: B+
Not quite the “1-2 punch” you’d expect in name value, the Patriots’ running back tandem of Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott has been the one bright-ish spot on New England’s offense. Here’s a look at their stats through 10 games:
Rhamondre Stevenson: 126 carries, 482 yards, 3.8 YPC, 3 TD
Ezekiel Elliott: 68 carries, 331 yards, 3.7 YPC, 2 TD
What’s encouraging is, the run game as a whole has been on an uptick recently, as they’ve gone for 107 and 162 yards on the ground respectively over the last two games.
They’d probably be better off running 60+ time per game than trying to force the ball to our next position group…
Wide Receivers: D-
Back to the D’s.
Despite Kendrick Bourne missing the past two games after tearing his ACL against the Dolphins, he’s still New England’s leading receiver on the season. Here’s a snapshot of the room:
Kendrick Bourne: 37 catches, 406 yards, 4 TD
Demario Douglas: 30 catches, 361 yards
DeVante Parker: 15 catches, 158 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster: 22 catches, 149 yards, 1 TD
Ty Montgomery: 4 catches, 23 yards
Jalen Reagor: 2 catches, 22 yards
Tyquan Thornton: 3 catches, 15 yards
Kendrick Boutte: 1 catch, 11 yards
JuJu Smith-Schuster, their big bad answer for letting Jakobi Meyers walk in free agency, has just 22 receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown and hauled in just one pass for nine yards last weekend despite playing 99% of the teams offensive snaps.
The only sliver of a promise is Demario Douglas, a sixth-round rookie jitter bug out of Liberty. Besides that? 2022 second-round pick Tyquan Thornton is already a bust, DeVante Parker is a shell of himself, and they don’t even let Kayshon Boutte play.
It ain’t good.
Tight Ends: D+
On paper, in theory, the Patriots have two of the top 10(ish) tight ends in the NFL.
On the field, however? It’s a completely different story.
While you could argue that Hunter Henry is just on the fringe of the top 10 tight ends in football given his rapport with Mac Jones in New England’s offense and his ability as a decent red zone option, offseason acquisition Mike Gesicki has been a major free agency flop.
The 6-foot-6 former Miami Dolphin and supposed matchup nightmare has been everything but. He has just 21 receptions on 30 targets through 10 games, totaling just 182 receiving yards and one touchdown.
It hasn’t been good enough from either one of them and on top of it, they can’t hold up a defender in the run game to save their life.
Their one decent blocker in the room? Pharaoh Brown, who has been a somewhat of a revalation hauling in seven catches for 170 yards. It’s not enough, however, to push the room past a D+.
Offensive Line: D-
Rounding out New England’s brutal offensive unit is their brutal offensive line. Through 10 games this season, the Patriots have had to trot out seven offensive line combinations due to both injury and poor play, and the lack of consistency in front of Mac Jones has caused his mental clock to be sped up faster than Usain Bolt at the Olympics.
They’ve made some strides of late with Mike Onwenu finally being bumped out to right tackle full time, but an absent Trent Brown over the last two weeks has moved the problems to the blindside.
It’s a problem, and the room needs to be among the top priorities for the Pats this coming offseason.
Defensive Line: B+
The Patriots’ defensive line room has been one of the better units on the team this season. Not only have guys like Deatrich Wise Jr. and Davon Godchaux performed above expected, but 2021 second-round pick Christian Barmore has come into his own during his third season.
“B-More’s really probably in the best condition he’s been in,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said this week on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show. “He’s worked hard. He had a good offseason, really pushed himself in the weight room, the offseason program. So, he was healthy and strong going into the season, more than he’s been in any other year. And I think you’re seeing the results of, really, a good offseason program and a lot of hard work. That’s really what it’s about.”
The former Alabama defensive tackle has tallied three sacks, five tackles for loss, and six quarterback hits in 2023 (all career highs) and is constantly mucking up their opponents’ run game. He’s a major reason why his room gets a B+.
The Patriots’ linebacker duo of Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai have made life easier for both the front end and the back end of New England’s defense this year.
Bentley, as consistent as ever, leads the team in tackles with 68 and Tavai, close behind with 61, has been New England’s most improved player this season with timely takedowns, tipped balls, and forced fumbles that have give their team life when they so desperately need it.
Loop Matthew Judon, Josh Uche, and a much improved Anfernee Jennings into the mix, and you get a solid group that deserves an A-.
New England’s cornerback room has had some incredible highs and some incredibly lows this season thus far.
On one hand, rookie first round pick Christian Gonzalez immediately came flying onto the scene as a de facto CB1. Through three games, he racked 16 total tackles, one sack, one interception, and three passes defensed while guarding the likes of star wide receivers A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, and Garrett Wilson. Unfortunately, a torn shoulder labrum in Week 4 against the Cowboys cost him the remainder of his rookie season, but the Patriots look to have a star on their hands.
On the other hand, Jack Jones was just released this week following a tumultuous end to his Patriots career and J.C. Jackson arrived back this week after being sent home and barred from the team’s trip to Germany after not showing up to the team hotel prior to their Week 9 contest vs. the Commanders.
For that reason, they sit right in the middle with a C.
Safety was arguably New England’s best position group heading into the season, and it remains near the top at the bye.
Jabrill Peppers is having one of his better seasons as a pro with 59 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 6 passes defenses, and is one of the leading run defenders in the NFL according to PFF while Kyle Dugger, in an all important contract year, leads the team with two interceptions and is second in tackles with 67.
Adrian Phillips and Jalen Mills pull the unit down a bit as neither have really popped like they used to, but overall it’s been a solid showing from the position in 2023.
For a team that prides itself on focusing all three phases of the game, the Patriots’ special teams unit has been sub par this season.
While rookie specialists Chad Ryland and Bryce Baringer have been as advertised if not better than expected, the supposed “staples” in this third of the game just haven’t shown up like they used to.
Missed plays, stupid mistakes, and bone-headed penalties from the likes of Matthew Slater, Brenden Schooler, and Chris Board (who I’m not sure even actually plays for the club) have become the norm, not an anomaly, and it’s turning a unit that once helped the Patriots win football games into one that contributes to them losing.