Saturday, January 4, 2014

Patriots 2013 Regular Season Awards

Here is your Patriots fix for the Bye Week; my much-coveted Regular Season Awards for 2013.

The Offense 

Most Valuable Offensive Player: Tom Brady
Honorable Mention: Julian Edelman

After all the offensive talent that left in the off-season, Brady was below his career average in completion percentage, yards per completion, touchdown percentage, took more sacks than any year except his first as a starter (2001), and had his lowest QB rating in 10 years. So how does he merit this award? With him at the helm, the Patriots went 12-4 and have a first-round playoff bye. Replace Brady with an average quarterback, and they go 5-11 and are out of the playoffs by November 4. That is the very definition of "valuable."

Julian Edelman took over Wes Welker's spot on offense, and he played more games (16 to 13), had more catches (73 to 105), for more yards (1056 to 778), and more first downs (54 to 43) than Welker. Edelman was instrumental in seven Patriots victories, and he was the one and only go-to guy in the passing game before/after Gronkowski (who was only in seven games).

Most Improved Offensive Player: Julian Edelman
Honorable Mention: Logan Mankins

Edelman had a 500% increase in catches (from 21 last year to 105 this year), and almost that much in yards (235 to 1056), which made this an easy choice. Not bad for a college quarterback -- who, by the way, is better after the catch than anyone else on the roster and also excels at punt returns.

Mankins had a down year in 2012, so his resurgence in 2013 was impressive. Reports are he was injured last year, but in 2013 he was the dominant interior linemen Patriots fans have come to expect. And he did a great job when he moved over to replace Nate Solder in the Baltimore game.

Offensive Newcomer of the Year: LeGarrette Blount
Honorable Mention: Danny Amendola

When the offense struggled to pass early on, it was all about the running of Stevan Ridley. But when Ridley faltered (er... fumbled), LeGarrette Blount stepped in with sure hands and much quicker feet than you'd expect from a 250-pound back. He missed leading the team in rushing by one yard (772), averaged 5.0 yards a carry, and tied for the team lead with seven rushing touchdowns. And when the team needed to win down the stretch, he had 265 yards on 32 carries in the last two games, and two great kickoff returns (not to mention some great runs) to keep the momentum in a defeat of Buffalo.

Amendola came in to much fanfare, but worked out just about as well as Brandon Lloyd last year. He played in just 12 games, and like Lloyd in 2012, he was second on the team in receptions (54) and yards (663). Not the difference-maker fans expected, but a solid contributor.

The Defense

Most Valuable Defensive Player: Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones
Honorable Mention: Aqib Talib

Ninkovich and Jones finished second and fourth in tackles (91 and 79), and second and first in sacks (8.0 and 11.5), respectively, on a defense where the D-line doesn't usually make a lot of tackles or get a lot of sacks. Jones is more athletically gifted and disruptive against the pass. Ninkovich holds the edge better against the outside run. Jones did better when asked to drop into pass coverage. Ninkovich is better at forcing fumbles. There just wasn't enough to separate them to choose only one, so Jones and Ninkovich are co-MVDPs this year.

Talib was often asked to shut down the best opposing receivers one-on-one, and he handled challenge incredibly well. And once teams realized how good he was, they stopped throwing at him, otherwise he would have led the team in interceptions easily (he ended up one behind Logan Ryan).

Most improved Defensive Player: Chandler Jones
Honorable Mention: none

Jones was a force his first 10 games last year. And then he and fellow rookie Dont'a Hightower tailed off, either due to injury or the famous "rookie wall." But Jones worked hard this off-season, and came back to be more consistent and more dominant for more of the year. His sacks were up from last year (6.0 to 11.5), and his tackles increased from from 45 to 79.

Defensive Newcomer of the Year: Chris Jones
Honorable Mention: Logan Ryan

Jones was one of two rookies who replaced Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelley when they went out of the year with injuries. And no offense to Joe Vellano, but Jones was clearly the best of the two. He rarely needed to be rested, playing 13 games and starting 11 of them. And he was good enough to make some All-Rookie teams by year's end. Jones wasn't perfect, but he helped shore up the interior defensive line when the team's run defense was in free-fall.

Logan Ryan stepped in when Talib and Alfonzo Dennard got injured, and it's a good thing he did. He had seven starts and played in all 16 games, and not only did he have 5 interceptions, he had 1.5 sacks and knocked down ten passes on the season.

Special Teams

Most Valuable Special Teams Player: Stephen Gostkowski
Honorable Mention: Matthew Slater, Nate Ebner

Gostkowski led the NFL in scoring -- for the third time in his career, by the way --  knocking home 92.7% of his field goals, 100% of his extra points, and allowing returns on only 33% of his kickoffs. He was also sixth in kickoff return average, fourth in touchback percentage, and had just one boot out of bounds (though it was a costly one against the Dolphins).

Slater was his usual, Pro-Bowl level self in kick coverage. The surprise of the season was Nate Ebner, who actually challenged Slater for the honorable mention here. Both were outstanding in blocking for kick returns and also in coverage, but a late surge by Slater brought him back to a tie-footing with the upstart Ebner.

The good news is that the players fed off each other, and they should make a great tandem for at least the next few years.

Most improved Special Teams Player: Nate Ebner
Honorable Mention: Stephen Gostkowski

Ebner for the reasons stated above. Anyone who can give All-Pro Slater a run for his money in this category is very good.

Gostkowski would have been the most improved, but he was terrific last year, too.

Special Teams Newcomer of the Year: Ryan Allen
Honorable Mention: LeGarrette Blount

Ryan Allen not only had a great year punting -- 45.9 average, only 16% touchbacks, 29 downed inside the 20 yard line -- but he also had to hold on field goals and extra points for Gostkowski. There were a few hiccups in the preseason, but once the real games started, Allen was as flawless as Zoltan Mesko was the last few years. Oh, and Allen bested Mesko's net-average by 2 yards a kick (39.9 to 37.9).

Blount turned out to be quite the versatile player. Leon Washington was brought in to return kickoffs and punts, but injuries force the kickoff return role onto Blount. And he responded quite well, showed great instincts on when to bring the ball out, and as mentioned earlier, had to huge returns in the season-finale against Buffalo.

Those are the awards for this year.

Enjoy the games this weekend, and look for my preview of the Pats first playoff game some time next week.

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 0-0!

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