Patriots midseason awards: Part Three

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Patriots midseason awards: Part Three

The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the third of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi tell you what's worked so far . . . and what hasn't.

PART ONE Best and worst on-field happenings | PART TWO: Midseason awards

REASON TO BELIEVE

PHIL PERRY: Rob Gronkowski's health. Yes, the workload has been hefty. But Gronkowski looks explosive, and he's made it through a half-season as Brady's best weapon in the passing game and one of the team's most impactful blockers. If he and Brady are healthy, they still have the ability to keep pace with most NFL offenses. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: An effective running game. Four backs of varying skills who can keep the heat off Brady’s arm, make play-action useful and pick up the hard yards? If they keep improving, they’ll be the key to this offense.

 

MIKE GIARDI: There’s a bunch, but I’ll just drop these two names: Brady and Belichick. As long as Brady is operating at this level, the Pats have a chance (boy, I bet you’ve never heard that before). I still think, even with a somewhat uneven performance in the first half, that the offense will score every time it has the ball. That’s all about Brady. I’ve seen it too often not to believe. As for Belichick, he routinely coaches circles around the rest of these clowns in the NFL. His teams are generally smarter and almost always better prepared. This run of success in the salary cap league is unprecedented. It starts with the coach and he’s closely followed by the quarterback.


REASON TO DESPAIR

PHIL PERRY:  Lack of pass-rush options. It won't matter all that much who is in the secondary or how well they're playing if the Patriots pass rush isn't a threat to speed up opposing passers. They're thin on the edge, and they'll need the likes of Deatrich Wise, Cassius Marsh, Shea McClellin and Kyle Van Noy to provide them something in the way of disruption. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Scattershot Steve. My confidence in Stephen Gostkowski is diminishing and this Patriots team won’t be blowing people out. He needs to be a consistent asset rather than a dice roll.

 

MIKE GIARDI: The Pats have lost two of the most irreplaceable players on their roster, Dont’a Hightower and Julian Edelman. They are dangerously thin on the defensive line, at wide receiver, at tight end, at linebacker and now at quarterback. I realize that every team can’t have backups who are NFL-caliber starters at every position. That’s not how the league works. But it’s been a long time since you can run down a list of depth issues at so many spots. I don’t care how good the coaching is, if a Rob Gronkowski goes down, this team is in deep doodoo. Ditto for Trey Flowers. Did you ever think an injury to Kyle Van Noy could derail the season? Yeah, me neither. Wait, actually I still don’t, but you get the point. Health is critical down the stretch.


BEST PERSONNEL HIT

PHIL PERRY: Brandin Cooks The Patriots had to hit if they were willing to give up a first-rounder, and they have. He isn't a middle-of-the-field dynamo, but on the outside Cooks is electric. He's averaging 17.1 yards per catch, and he's on pace for over 1,200 yards receiving and six touchdowns. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Johnson Bademosi. The Patriots tracked the former Stanford corner since 2012 and spent a sixth-round pick in the offseason to get him away from the Lions. He’s filled in stunningly well for the injured Stephon Gilmore.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Johnson Bademosi. He’s been a saving grace for a secondary and a defense that had been struggling mightily during the first month or so . Normally a special-teams player and special-teamer alone, Bademosi has expanded his role to become the starting corner opposite Malcolm Butler, filling in ably for Stephon Gilmore. Okay, he’s actually been far more consistent than Gilmore was before his injury. No, Bademosi isn’t better than Gilmore but he’s performed better in this short sample and at the very least has given Matt Patricia another viable option at corner. All for a 2018 sixth-round draft pick. I’d say it’s already been worth it.


BIGGEST PERSONNEL BLUNDER

PHIL PERRY: Dwayne Allen. The Patriots swapped a fourth-round pick for a sixth-rounder in order to acquire Allen, so it's not as though they sold the farm to snag him from the Colts. But his role could have been a crucial one in the Patriots offense, and now it's the opposite. Allen hasn't seen a target since Week 4 and he doesn't have a catch on the season. Undrafted rookie Jacob Hollister was playing over Allen in the two-minute drill in the first half last Sunday. 

TOM E. CURRAN: Lack of left-tackle attention. The Patriots are foot-dragging on finding Nate Solder’s understudy in a way they didn’t with Matt Light. And they are nickel-and-diming the search in a way they didn’t with Light. Solder’s not playing great and the Patriots have poor tackle depth. It concerns.

 

MIKE GIARDI: The list is a hell of a lot longer than normal in the Belichick-era. Stephen Gilmore is an easy target. I’m not going there. The last game he played was a good one. Dwayne Allen? Yeah, he’s been average at best. But I wasn’t expecting him to be an impact player so I rule him out. Trading Jimmy Garoppolo? That wasn’t my favorite but with Brady playing the way he’s playing, fine. That takes me all the back to the trade for Kony Ealy. I hear all this talk about just moving down eight spots in the draft and it was a low-risk, high-reward move. Really? They made the trade expecting Ealy to play an important role along the defensive line. Their failure to see it wasn’t a good fit, or to motivate the player, led to Ealy getting chopped before cutdown day. That’s how bad it was. Do you think they could use a player of his talent level right now? That was a rhetorical question. The answer is yes. And as the Pats struggle to get to the QB, and have to play Cassius Marsh or use Kyle Van Noy on the edge or even turn to the Flowers not named Trey, you can’t help but think “man, it sure would be nice to have Kony Ealy on the field right about now" . . . 


ASSISTANT OF THE HALF-YEAR

PHIL PERRY: Joe Judge. The Patriots' kick-coverage units have been perhaps the most consistent of any unit on the team through eight weeks. And that's with Matthew Slater missing the first quarter of the year. Credit goes to Judge and his assistant Bubba Ventrone for getting these groups, comprised of many first-year Patriots, on the same page so quickly. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Ivan Fears. The Patriots’ running back coach has James White, Dion Lewis, Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead under his supervision and the way those players have improved over time is due notice.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Ivan Fears. Aside from quarterback, what position on the team has performed to or above expected levels? To me, it’s one spot and one spot alone: running back. Of the quartet of Dion Lewis, James White, Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, only the latter hasn’t quite taken off but it’s not like Gillislee has sucked. Fears has managed to -- generally -- keep everyone happy in that group. He wins the award and I’m sure he’s already carving out space on his mantel. 

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Patriots midseason awards: Part One

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Patriots midseason awards: Part One

The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the first of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi look at some of the best -- and worst -- on-field occurences so far in 2017.

PART TWO: Midseason awards | PART THREE: What's worked . . . and what hasn't

BEST PLAY OF THE YEAR

PHIL PERRY: The Tom Brady-to-Brandin Cooks game-winning touchdown against the Texans. Brady's execution was flawless as he pumped to hold off the safety, took a huge shot, and still threw a dime. For Cooks, it was an acknowledgement that he was in the circle of trust. Not many game-winners over the course of the season, so this one is the easy choice in my opinion.

TOM E. CURRAN: Brady-to-Cooks, but Phil got there first. So I’ll go with Gronk’s 53-yard TD against the Saints. Brady heaved it to him and Gronk skedaddled and sidestepped his way to a TD that indicated he was indeed back from his back.

MIKE GIARDI: I have watched the 27-yard completion from Tom Brady to James White from Sunday’s game with the Chargers at least 15 times, and we also featured it on Monday Night Patriots. It didn’t win the game, like Brandin Cooks versus the Texans, but it combined terrific pocket awareness by Tom Brady; left tackle Nate Solder engaging one of the best pass rushers in the game, Joey Bosa, for five or six seconds, and then White first chipping Melvin Ingram and then working hard to uncover as Brady moved around. The throw was spot on. The play was sexy. It really was.

WORST PLAY OF THE YEAR

PHIL PERRY:  Kareem Hunt's 58-yard fourth-quarter run in the season-opening loss to the Chiefs. The Patriots were down one score (35-27) with 4:15 left in the game, when Hunt went streaking down the sideline on a simple toss play. Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts took bad angles in pursuit. Malcolm Butler and Patrick Chung were blocked easily. If not for Devin McCourty chasing Hunt down, it would have gone for a 79-yard score. One play later, Charcandrick West was in the end zone and the game was effectively over. Afterwards, perhaps with this sequence in mind, Tom Brady questioned the team's attitude and competitiveness.

TOM E. CURRAN: Devin Funchess’ 10-yard reception from Cam Newton in Week 4 in which Funchess ran unmolested off the line and into the end zone with nary a Patriot in pursuit. 

 

MIKE GIARDI: Which play from the Carolina game do you want to go with? I’ll pick the screen to Fozzy Whittaker in which every single Patriot defender on the offensive left/defensive right vacated the area as if someone launched tear gas into the area. Elandon Roberts. Devin McCourty. Stephen Gilmore. It was the lowest point for a defense that had a dozen or so of those plays over the first month of the season. I still can’t get over Gilmore -- the last player remaining on that side of the field -- just tearing ass to chase rookie Christian McCaffrey. Staggering. And Cam Newton could have easily flipped it the tight end, who was also all by himself. 

BEST GAME

PHIL PERRY: The Week 7 win over the Falcons. In prime time, against what was thought to be a very good offense, the much-maligned Patriots defense held Atlanta to one score. And the biggest question mark on the other side of the ball -- the offensive line -- showed signs of turning the corner. We may look back at that night as the night things finally got on track for good.

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Patriots over Texans Week 3. Five lead changes, a preview of how damn good Deshaun Watson might be and a fourth-quarter comeback win, 36-33. Good stuff.

 

MIKE GIARDI: No brainer. It’s the Atlanta game. It didn’t have the most points or most explosive plays, but it was Patriot football. Clinical, emotional, suffocating and there was never, ever a doubt, despite the talent on the other sideline. If the Pats could play nine more games like this year, I’d sign up for it. I’m sure Bill Belichick would, too.

 

TOUGHEST OPPOSING PLAYER

PHIL PERRY: Deshaun Watson. Mobile. Tough. Accurate enough. We didn't know it ahead of time, but Watson was a matchup nightmare for the Patriots in Week 3. He was able to take advantage of a secondary still finding itself, and he had all kinds of time to do it based on his own quickness and the absence of a devastating Patriots pass-rush. 

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Alex Smith. Ya boy Al Smith kick-started his 2017 with a 28-for-35, 368-yard, four-touchdown performance in the season opener and he hasn’t slowed down since.

 

MIKE GIARDI: To this point? It’s gotta be Watson. The Texans quarterback had his team poised for a huge win at Gillette if not for the heroics of Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks. Watson was as slippery as a snake covered in axel grease. Pats defenders had one shot after another to take him down for a big loss and Watson slithered in and out of their grasp to make one big play after another. His calmness under pressure comes as no surprise. Watson did this in college for years. But he’s made the seamless transition to the NFL and despite some of the analytic sites not loving him, Watson has given the Texans hope at that position, something they haven’t had maybe ever. I’m actually disappointed that JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus are done for the year. I wanted to see Houston come to Foxboro in January and Watson is a big reason why.

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