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Patriots Progress Report Second Quarter

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Patriots Progress Report  Second Quarter Alastair Grant (AP)

We've reached the halfway point of the 2012 NFL season, and the Patriots are once again in their accustomed place atop the AFC East. While their 5-3 record might not be quite what fans were hoping for at this stage of the season, those three losses have come by a total of four points. The team has looked much stronger especially on the offensive side since starting the season at 2-2.

Considering the sad state of the division, it seems unlikely that New England will face much of a challenge to their lead over the second half of the season. Never say never, obviously this team certainly has the potential to become incredibly frustrating to fans. But considering where the Jets, Bills and Dolphins are in terms of talent and tenacity, Pats fans can probably rest easy.

Onward we go to the Progress Report.

Offense A-

There's no disputing the powerhouse status of this offense. They can put up points with any team in the league, going off for well over 30 per game. They are led as always by QB Tom Brady, who has put up over 2,400 yards passing to go along with 16 TD passes and only 3 interceptions; he's even got a pair of TD runs this season. But a quarterback needs guys to catch the ball; Wes Welker leads the league in receiving yards and tight end Rob Gronkowski has been dominant, although there are half a dozen guys who are receiving threats on this team. The running game has slowed down a bit since starting strong, but backs Stevan Ridley, Danny Woodhead and company have been holding their own.

Defense C

The only thing keeping this grade even this high is the fact that the team finds ways to win. By some statistical measures, the defense has been passable they're well above league average against the run, for example. But the reason for that is simple: Why run the ball when you can attack the Patriots lame duck secondary? Teams have no fear of the New England defensive backfield; the team has given up more pass plays of 20+ yards than any team in the league. That's fine when you're putting up video game scores on offense, but at some point, this team is going to have to stop someone in order to make any kind of real playoff run. Despite the five wins and three (very) close losses, this team simply isn't there yet.

Special Teams B+

Placekicker Stephen Gostkowski looked a bit shaky early on in the season, but he has certainly righted the ship as the season has progressed. Those early woes appear to be little more than a hiccup; Gostkowski is back to being the reliable weapon he's been in years past. While punter Zoltan Mesko's raw numbers aren't great he's near the bottom in both gross and net punt yardage a lot of that is due to the offense's ability to move the ball. Mesko leads the league in fewest punts returned and is near the top in kicks inside the 20. With the exception on one electric 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Devin McCourty, the return game has been just OK.

Coaching B-

In Belichick we trust. It's a bit of a broken record at this point, but so it goes. Granted, it seems a bit suspect that a supposed defensive guru has put such a poor quality defense on the field. Whether the blame needs to be laid at the feet of the personnel or the scheme is difficult to say, although there seem to have been more than a few misfires with regards to drafting defensive players. Still, 5-3 is a good record, and with just a handful of better bounces, this team could easily be undefeated. We'll see if Coach Belichick can get this defense headed in the right direction.

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