New England Patriots

New England Patriots

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - SEPTEMBER 24: Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots stands in the huddle in the first half against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

10 weeks into the 2023 NFL season, the New England Patriots’ bye week is finally here. That means it’s time for our annual check-in that is the midseason report card. As has been the case in the past, we’re not using the exact midway point but the buy week/extended off week.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, with the team at 2-8, these will be some of the lowest grades given out in the now-four years of doing this exercise. They were 4-5 when we checked in in 2020, 5-4 in 2021, and then 5-4 again last year.


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The grades include everything factoring into the position. That means players’ individual performances as well as coaching and usage.

With these grades, keep in mind the idea is grading based on the expectations compared to reality (ex. players/positions with higher expectations coming into the season are graded on a sharper curve). There’s also an emphasis put on more recent games, with football being a ‘what have you done for me lately’ game.

As always, we’ll start with the offense (defensive grades can be found here). Entering the bye week, the Patriots have the 31st-ranked offensive in the league, averaging 14.1 points per game. That’s down a full touchdown per game from where they finished last year, and is on pace to be their worse offensive ranking in franchise history (they ranked 28th offensively in 1990).

What does that look like in grade form? Here we go…

  • Quarterbacks: D-

    Sep 17, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) talk with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O'Brien in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 17, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) and quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) talk with offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Bill O’Brien in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    Mac Jones had two main individual goals to accomplish this season, his third on his rookie contract (generally, teams decide on the long-term future of their first-round quarterbacks after Year 3). First, he needed to show he could shake the bad habits he developed in 2022, and get back into the rhythm he had as a rookie. Failing to do that 100 percent, he at least needed to play well enough to win enough games that the Patriots wouldn’t be drafting high enough to take his replacement.

    Neither of those have come to fruition. Jones is still sped up in the pocket and throwing with poor mechanics. Between that and other shortcomings on the roster the Patriots enter the bye in position to have the third overall pick in the upcoming draft.

    Despite Jones’ struggles, reports throughout the season have indicated that the team hasn’t seen enough from second-year backup Bailey Zappe – who was initially cut out of training camp – to hand him the job. In game action Zappe has struggled in two mop-up appearances and Sunday’s crunch-time drive, and it sounds like that’s similar to what is going on in practice.

    Given all of that, how to the Patriots’ quarterbacks not earn an F? Jones showed up and played well enough to beat Buffalo a few weeks ago (a loss Bills fans are still furious about). That game, and a 300-yard performance against the Eagles – keeps the group out of an overall failing grade.

  • Running back: C

    Sep 24, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson (38) runs for a few against the Jets at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    Sept. 24, 2023; East Rutherford, NJ: New England Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson runs against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)

    After a slow start, the Patriots’ running back duo of Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott have looked much better the last few weeks – despite struggles of the offensive line. As a team the Patriots rushed for over 100 yards in back-to-back weeks, the first time all season they’ve done that.

    However, the position hasn’t carried the offense the way it did last year – in part due to that slow start. Stevenson in particular is averaging more than a yard less per carry to this point  than he did last year (5.0 yards per carry last year, 3.8 so far this year), and hasn’t been as much of a factor in the passing game.

    That’s been another issue at the position, one that goes to coaching/roster building more than the players themselves. The Patriots still don’t have a true passing-down back, and that hole has been clear at times. Stevenson and Elliott have made plays at times, but after so much consistency from Kevin Faulk through James White, that crucial role in the Patriots’ offense feels understaffed.

    Notably Ty Montgomery, who seemed to be in line for that job before getting hurt early in training camp, hasn’t seen many chances not just at running back but on offense all-together. He’s played a total of 31 offensive snaps so far this year – with only five of those coming at running back.

  • Wide receiver: D

    New England Patriots v New York Jets

    EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – SEPTEMBER 24: JuJu Smith-Schuster #7 of the New England Patriots runs for a first down in the second quarter of a game against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on September 24, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

    This is a split grade. Two Patriots receivers have reached or exceeded expectations this season, while the rest have come up well short.

    We’ll start with that second group. JuJu Smith-SchusterTyquan Thornton, and DeVante Parker were all expected to play key roles this year. Yet Smith-Schuster still looks uncomfortable in the Patriots’ offense, Thornton was benched just three games into his start to the season after spending the first month on IR, and Parker has struggled around dealing with injuries.

    The lack of consistency from that group has been a serious obstacle for the Patriots’ offense. There have been many instances of plays designed to spotlight one of those three players (ex. tunnel screens to Smith-Schuster, jump balls to Parker) that just haven’t worked.

    Smith-Schuster and Parker – the two wide receivers the Patriots paid in the offseason – have combined for 37 catches for 307 yards and one touchdown in 15 combined games. Meanwhile Kendrick Bourne, who was benched by the team last year, on his own had 37 catches for 406 yards and four touchdowns in eight games before tearing his ACL. He was one of the true bright spots in this Patriots’ offense before getting hurt. That performance alone raises the grade of the position.

    Rookie Demario Douglas has been another bright spot. He’s caught 30 catches for 361 yards, and has added an explosive element as a ball carrier the Patriots’ offense desperately needed. His 6.7 yards after catch per reception rank sixth among all qualified NFL wide receivers. Douglas may not be on his way to a Pro Bowl this year, but so far his body of work has been impressive for a sixth-round rookie, especially given the Patriots’ history of developing wide receivers.

    As for the Patriots’ other rookie wideout, the Patriots benched Kayson Boutte after an involved role in Week 1, and didn’t have him active for a game again until Week 10. That lack of usage despite other issues at the position was head-scratching, and further lowers this position’s grade.

  • Tight ends: C+

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 17: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown catch with Mike Gesicki #88 during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – SEPTEMBER 17: Hunter Henry #85 of the New England Patriots celebrates his touchdown catch with Mike Gesicki #88 during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on September 17, 2023 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    This is another split grade. We’ll start with the good.

    Hunter Henry has had a bounce-back season after failing to produce in 2022. He’s already surpassed last year’s total in touchdowns, and is well on pace to surpass his total receptions and yards as well. As was expected in the summer, he’s been a solid, reliable contributor.

    The Patriots have also gotten a surprise performance from Pharaoh Brown, who wasn’t signed by the team until after camp. Brown has been one of the Patriots’ biggest sources of big plays – he’s tied with Kendrick Bourne for the most plays of 25-plus yards this season, with three. He’s also helped as a blocker amid the Patriots’ offensive line struggles. Through 10 weeks he’s PFF’s highest graded tight end for the entire NFL with a 90.6 grade.

    Then there’s Mike Gesicki, who hasn’t quite had the production that was expected when the Patriots signed him back in March. He has as many games with one or fewer catches (3) as he does with more than two. The Patriots’ issues up front have limited their ability to use ’12’ personnel with both him and Henry, with the team often turning to an extra blocker. Because of that Gesicki’s role has evolved, with Bill Belichick referring to him as the team’s “fourth wide receiver” a few weeks ago.

    Also not helping Gesicki’s case if the fact that he’s at his best in the red zone – somewhere the Patriots haven’t been often this year. Their 91 red zone snaps are the sixth-fewest in the league this year, limiting their ability to sign a player tabbed as a red zone threat.

  • Offensive line: D-

    Sep 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) in action during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    Sep 10, 2023; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Trent Brown (77) in action during the second half against the Philadelphia Eagles at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

    I said before the start of the season that if anything undid the Patriots’ offense this year, it would be the offensive line. While the team has struggled all-around, there’s an argument to be made that the offensive line has been the biggest problem.

    For starters, there’s been very little continuity up front. The Patriots have only used the same starting offensive line in consecutive weeks three times – from Weeks 4 to 5 and then from Weeks 9 to 10. That’s partially been due to injuries but partially been due to performance. For instance, it took the Patriots more than a month to move Mike Onwenu out to right tackle (which has worked, he’s played well), after both Calvin Anderson and Vederian Lowe got benched.

    With Onwenu moving to the outside, the Patriots have also had to rely heavily on young players at guard. Cole Strange has shown little growth from his rookie season and seems to still be bothered by injury. He’s allowed at least three pressure in every game but one that he’s played in, and his run blocking PFF grade ranks 18th among all guards.

    As for the rookies, Atonio Mafi starting strong but couldn’t stay consistent, and has now allowed 21 pressures in seven games while posting a 31.5 PFF run blocking grade. He was benched when Strange returned from injury. Sidy Sow rebounded from a rough start and was showing promise before a rough game against Indy that included four pressures and a sack allowed.

    Trent Brown had been a bright spot for the Patriots, but injuries have piled up on the 30-year old tackle who is now also dealing with a personal matter. The lone constant for the offensive line to this point has been David Andrews, who is PFF’s 10th-highest rated center.

    Collectively the Patriots rank 27th in the NFL in pass blocking efficiency at 81.1 percent. At the same time, despite increased burst from the running backs the line is still paving the way for the NFL’s 23rd-ranked ground attack. Simply put, it hasn’t been enough.

  • Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

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