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Ben Volin | On Football

Taking stock of Patriots’ ups and downs after three games

Jabaal Sheard (93) has two sacks and appears to be an offseason steal for the Patriots. Barry Chin/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The bye week usually is a convenient time to do a “Patriots midseason report” and take stock of where the team stands halfway through the season.

But the bye came a little early this year, in Week 4. The Patriots are off to a blazing 3-0 start, but it’s a bit premature to make definitive statements about the team and its personnel. There’s still three full months for the rest of the NFL to poke holes in the Patriots’ armor, and as we saw last year, the way a team performs in September isn’t necessarily indicative of how it will play the rest of the year.


But let’s take a look at some individual performances of note through three games — five Patriots who have made a positive impact, and five Patriots who need to pick up their games. And we’re going to look beyond the obvious, here. We all know that Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are pretty good football players.


1. DE/OLB Jabaal Sheard. Sheard was one of the Patriots’ top free agent signings this offseason, signing a two-year, $11 million deal after spending four years with the Browns. And Sheard, only 26 years old, quietly has been worth every penny. He has two sacks, leads the team with five quarterback hurries, and has three quarterback hits.

And, more importantly, he gives Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich a breather — Ninkovich and Jones played about 95 percent of the snaps the last two years (when healthy), but now Ninkovich is down to 84 percent and Jones 82 percent on the season, with Sheard at 70 percent. This should keep Jones and Ninkovich healthier and fresher.

2. RB Dion Lewis. No player had less buzz during minicamp and the start of training camp than Lewis, but he has been a revelation, and a crucial part of the offense.


Belichick usually likes to use a committee approach at running back, but Lewis has been the workhorse, playing in 67.5 percent of snaps, with no other running back above 20 percent (LeGarrette Blount is next at 16 percent). Lewis is only 5 feet 8 inches and 195 pounds, but he can run between the tackles, showing great power and elusiveness in averaging 4.9 yards per carry on his 146 rushing yards. He has 15 catches for 179 yards, has shown a nose for the end zone with two touchdowns, and is solid in pass protection, as well. He doesn’t always hit the correct hole, and his durability is a concern, but Lewis has been quite the find so far.

3. C David Andrews. Brady hasn’t thrown an interception and has been sacked six times for only 34 yards in three games, and Brady is obviously responsible for much of that, given how quickly and decisively he gets the football out of his hands. But the offensive line deserves a lot of credit for protecting Brady and having good communication through three games, and Andrews, the center, is at the heart of it.

Andrews hasn’t necessarily played better than rookie guards Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson. But expectations for those two players were higher, given they were drafted in the fourth round. Andrews, out of Georgia, was undrafted and not only did he come from nowhere to make the Patriots, he’s the only player on either side of the football who has played every snap this season (228 total). Given where he came from, and because the Patriots weren’t counting on him to play early, Andrews has been a terrific fill-in.


4. LB Jamie Collins. Everyone knows what an athletic freak Collins is, but he’s really turning into a complete linebacker on the verge of superstardom. He leads the Patriots with 22 tackles, showing an impressive ability to chase running backs sideline to sideline and cover them out of the backfield – not an easy feat for someone who is 6-3. Collins entered Week 4 tied for second in the NFL with 3½ sacks, he’s forced two fumbles, and he’s devastating as a blitzer, compiling five quarterback hits and two more pressures. There aren’t many players in the NFL who have as diverse a skill set as Collins does.

5. K Stephen Gostkowski. Kickers are more important than ever with the new extra point rules, and no one has been steadier than Gostkowski. He entered Week 4 leading the NFL in scoring with 35 points, hitting all 21 of his kicks (seven field goals, 14 extra points). He’s 4 of 4 from 40-plus yards, 18 of his 24 kickoffs have gone for touchbacks, and opponents are only averaging 18 yards per kickoff return. Gostkowski is a tremendous weapon and is proving to be worth every penny of the four-year, $17.2 million contract he signed this offseason.



1. CB Bradley Fletcher. Eagles fans chuckled when the Patriots signed Fletcher to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with $1.1 million in incentives, and we’re starting to see why. The Patriots are thin at cornerback, but they made Fletcher inactive anyway, after he was burned several times in the first two games against the Steelers and Bills. Fletcher is fine in zone coverage, but has been terrible in deep coverage, particularly because he can’t get a jam on the receiver at the line of scrimmage despite his 6-foot frame.

2. LB Jerod Mayo. It’s certainly possible the Patriots are just working Mayo back slowly into the defense following his surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon. It’s also fair to wonder if Mayo, 29, is pretty much done. Mayo has never been great in pass coverage, but now he barely sees the field, playing just 44 snaps this season — 21.8 percent of the team’s total. Collins and Dont’a Hightower are the primary linebackers now, Jonathan Freeny has gotten some snaps as a backup, and the Patriots have traded for Jon Bostic. Mayo’s value might be as a locker room leader.

3. CB Malcolm Butler. Butler has been competitive and scrappy, and has displayed good physicality in the run game as well as some tight coverage. But he also gambles a bit too much, leaving his feet to try to make a big play instead of making the safe play. And he needs to work on his hand-eye coordination, as he has let three potential interceptions/passes defended slip through his hands. Butler is a solid cornerback, but he hasn’t been a true shutdown guy, either.


4. Scott Chandler. I thought we’d see a little more out of Chandler. He only has played in 44 percent of snaps, catching six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots tried to force-feed him on the goal line against Buffalo, and he wasn’t strong enough to come down with the passes. He’ll still be a weapon in the red zone, but Chandler feels like the fourth or fifth option in the offense, instead of the second or third.

5. RB James White.White has been a disappointment. Last year’s fourth-round pick should be able to get on the field by now, but after carrying just nine times for 38 yards last season, White played only one snap in the 2015 season opener, was inactive for the second game, and got 17 snaps in garbage time against the Jaguars, touching the ball six times for 34 yards. He’s well behind Lewis and Blount on the depth chart, and the coaching staff just doesn’t seem to trust him yet.

Ben Volin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin