Giardi's first-half Patriots awards
First-half Patriots awards
Patriots are 7-2 at the bye? Based on all the questions that were raised this offseason, the inconsistency from week to week and injuries, so many injuries, it's fair to say that their success comes as a bit of a surprise. Is it sustainable? That's the great unknown once the schedule resumes. I will say, with Bill Belichick and an improved coaching staff, I wouldn't bet against it. On to the first-half honors . . .
Where in the wide world of sports would the Pats be without Julian Edelman? I know, I know. He's barely made a mark as a pass catcher these last couple weeks. I don't care. Early in the season he's fiercely overachieved, elevating an offense that is only now discovering its identity. The Pats don't beat the Jets in round one without "Jules," and his catch across the middle on the final drive versus the Saints makes that improbable comeback possible.
My column, so my choice to split this right down the pipe between Aqib Talib and Devin McCourty. Talib has, quite simply, been the Pats' most dynamic player this season and it's not even close. He has given the secondary a real swagger that was missing for years. (That Pat Ching chest-pounding doesn't count. False bravado). Talib's also been a beast when healthy. The work he did on Atlanta's Julio Jones leaves an indelible mark, especially the incredible play in the end zone to preserve a crucial road win, and he kept A.J. Green awfully quiet as well. If Talib's healthy, the Pats can still be a good defense. As for McCourty, he deserved Pro Bowl consideration last year after making the switch back to safety and is now playing a higher and more consistent level this time around. What I like most: Big plays are starting to become the norm, a sign of his comfort level back there. Expect more in the second half.
CREAM RISES TO THE TOP
Aaron Dobson. I was intrigued by this kid's skill set from day one, and while it may have taken longer than the impatient folks in social media and sports radio would like, this is going just about the way I suspected: moments of brilliance interspersed with rookie mistakes, a common issue in this offense and at that position. Heck, we know it's not just a rookie thing (see Galloway, Joey; Ochocinco, Chad; Lloyd, Brandon). But Dobson is making progress, and now that the Pats have a healthier complement of pass catchers, the second-rounder out of Marshall should be able to carve out a real nice piece for himself and be a Brady favorite for years to come.
WHO ARE THESE GUYS?
Who had Chris Jones and Joe Vellano as the starting defensive tackles when the season began? Better yet, who had them actually making an impact? Room got awfully quiet just now, didn't it? Both are playing out of necessity because of the season-ending injuries to Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, but they aren't acting like they're just happy to be here. Jones leads all rookies in sacks, and Vellano has been a steady performer with a high motor and a surprising amount of skill for an drafted player. Can they withstand the rigors of a 16-game season and January football? If managed properly, and assuming health, I don't see why not.
SHOW ME SOMETHING
I'm looking at you, Brandon Spikes, and at you, Dont'a Hightower. With the starting DTs out, and Jerod Mayo lost for the year as well, it's supposed to be their time. However, inconsistency remains the buzzword with both. When it comes to Hightower, we still don't know what he excels at. He does a little bit of everything, but he's not great at anything, at least not yet (though his performance vs. Pittsburgh may have been best as a pro). As for Spikes, he's still excelling against the run, but at this point in his career, shooting wrong gaps and being caught flat-footed in coverage aren't things we should see on a regular basis.
HURRY BACK NOW
Steven Gregory. He was a whipping boy last year, a guy who looked lost for a better part of his first season in New England. But eventually, Gregory and McCourty found a nice rhythm alongside each other and that has been one of the better parts of the Pats' defense this year. Smart player, and he's been much better at taking the right angles in the passing games. And at sticking his hat in there against the run.
Rob Ninkovich doesn't have the ceiling of Chandler Jones or the measurables of some of the freaks that play DE in the NFL, but what he does do is produce, regardless of the situation. Ninkovich is the Pats' best defender against the run, a stout edge setter with the athleticism and strength to occupy bigger tackles and also to toss them aside. As a pass rusher, give the man credit. He spends a good part of every game day in the backfield. He's been a hell of a player for the Pats and I see no reason why that will change.