Grading The Patriots

With nothing to watch except for rivals or other teams that will supposedly make a run in the postseason, Patriots fans can take a weekend off from football without any guilt. New England has had it's share of success thus far in 2006. As they rest, Shane Leketa takes a look a how they team has fared over the first five games, and shares his grades for each unit.

As Patriots fans sit back and prepare for a weekend without their favorite team running around on the field causing chaos, this is a look at the season so far for the Patriots.

When you reflect on where this team is, has been and is going this 2006-2007 season, you should hear the words "A work in progress" when talking about it.

After an off-season where the team was dismantled due to free agency and big contract demands, the outlook on the season was a giant question mark. How were we going to fill the spots left blank by the departure of Willie McGinest, Adam Viniateri, David Givens and Deion Branch? How were they going to be able to compete with teams with firepower like the Colts or Bengals? Was the secondary defense going to continue the momentum they gained at the end of the '05 season?

Well so far going into week 6 and entering a much-needed bye, I feel that some of those skeptics have been silenced. This is mostly due to the fact that they are sporting a 4-1 record and are undefeated against a weak AFC East conference (3-0).

This team is by far nothing close to being where they need to be if they want to make a run for the big game in Miami this year. Some weaknesses are evident, but they also have answered a lot of questions with the stellar on field play at certain positions. I wanted to, as a fan; grade this team's progress only a third of the way through this season.

I will start off by listing my positive scores so far this season:

Offensive Line - A -- The reason for this good grade is because of two things; youth and experience. These young men are big, fast and are one of the best lines in the game. I have always believed if you don't hear the lineman's names then they are doing their jobs. It just goes to show how important these guys are to this team by this week's signing of Dan Koppen in the Center position to a five-year deal. He anchors the line that was improved by the addition of rookie Ryan O'Callaghan. The return of Nick Kaczur will improve the group. This line has nothing but good times ahead barring any injuries. This crew is ranked number one in giving up only 5 sacks in 162 passing attempts.

Running Game - A- -- This is an obvious score. Patriot fans have seen the "dynamic duo" of veteran Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney in action. Now the national media outlets are starting to see what a special thing they have here in Foxborough. Rounding out that running game is third down specialist Kevin Faulk and fullback Heath Evans. The only reason that I did not give an A+ is for two reasons; the 'fumblitis' of Faulk sometimes and the two games against the Broncos and Dolphins where the group was shut down. It seems that this team is going to feed off of the run first and pass second; where in the past this was not the case. These boys are averaging 139 yards per game so far this season ranked number 5 in the league.

Quarterback - B+ -- What else can you say about having a three time Super Bowl champion at the helm? Not much. This Michigan alum has always found a way to win. Even after putting up huge numbers in leading the league in passing yards and a couple of year ago in touchdowns, he has found a way to win with a makeshift corps of receivers. He is starting to find his stride and get comfortable with his guys after losing his number one and number two receivers from last year. In the process of figuring out his receivers, he has successfully thrown 8 touchdown passes this season tied for fourth in the league with Peyton Manning. Another reason for this good grade is his backup could definitely be a starter somewhere else in Matt Cassel. In the preseason he looked solid and backing up a winning quarterback like Brady can be nothing but a good thing.

Defensive Line - A- -- This young and very talented bunch on the defensive line has shut down offensives up front while also helping to register 4.5 sacks for Jarvis Green who trails the league leader by .5 sacks. They are starting to gel in stopping the run and plugging up holes while being led by all pro Richard Seymour. These guys are getting better game after game and getting comfortable seeing as to how they average an age of around 25 years old.

Special Teams - B+ -- This is one of the forgotten statistic categories when you are rating and ranking a team. These guys have been very good so far in coverage, kickoffs, touchbacks, and punt returns so far this season with a couple of small glitches here and there. A couple of stats to note, Kevin Faulk is leading the league in Punt return average with an average of 13.5 yards in his ten returns. Patriots are ranked number one in punt return defense just giving up an average of 3.4 yards per return. Even though Stephen Gostkowski has had a couple of miscues in the field goal category, he is ranked number three in the league for booting a total of seven touchbacks through five games. This is a very important yet unnoticed statistic.

Receivers - C -- The only reason that I will give this low grade is because this is one of the biggest 'works in progress' of all. With newcomers Doug Gabriel, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson and Reche Caldwell, they are learning the system and trying to stay healthy in the process to get on the field for more reps (Jackson - hamstring). But after the Branch and Givens fiasco, we forget about the ever-trustworthy Troy Brown. This guy is just six receptions behind Stanley Morgan for the all time lead in Patriots history and has 6,150 career yards making him the only second Patriot receiver to make the 6,000 yard mark for his career (Stanley Morgan). Once this receiving corps can establish a deep threat and a downfield presence, I think they will be one of the league's best, especially with someone named Brady throwing them the ball.

Defense overall (secondary and linebackers) - C I think the numbers tell everything about these units. They have given up big plays deep to a few teams except the Bengals. They have had their moments this season with Asante Samuel coming through especially in the Miami game (2 INTs) but they have also been burned pretty bad by Rod Smith and Javon Walker. It is also great to see Rodney Harrison back and Tedy Bruschi playing full tilt. I think if they can tighten some parts of the defensive game, they can shut some of these teams down.

Overall you cannot give this team anything less than a B due to the fact they are 4-1 going into the bye week and look like they are gaining slight momentum. They have some areas that need improvement but, they also have a good core base of players that can be molded into great players by the best coach in the business. I ask you this. Did anyone outside of South Bend know of David Givens before he came to New England? This franchise has a way of bringing out the best in all of their players.

This season, barring injury or mental meltdown, looks promising at the start. Hopefully they can improve on the few areas needed and begin to gel as a cohesive unit. I look forward to seeing them play together for the rest of the year.

Shane is a lifelong Patriots fan who grew up in Worcester, MA. He showed his Patriots spirit representing his home team all over the world while in the military and attending games regularly through the years. He now resides in Bangor, ME where he roots for them from afar. He stands firm in his belief in the team and regularly makes the 500 mile round trip trek to watch them whenever he can.

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