How the Patriots Will Survive Without Rob Gronkowski

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Photo courtesy of USA Today
Rob Gronkowski was, and may forever be, the best tight end to ever suit up for the New England Patriots.  A matchup nightmare, Gronkowski was a focal point of this offense for the past 9 years.  One of Tom Brady's top, trusted targets, Gronkowski's departure leaves a massive hole that the team will do its best to patch up.  There is no replacing Gronkowski, or his production.  While things may not look the same this year, the offense is going to be okay.

Why?  Because the Patriots and their coaching staff are the best at adapting and adjusting.  Well, this season may be the ultimate test.  The offense that they have come to know over the past decade will no longer exist this year.  There won't be a 1,000 yard receiver this year at the tight end position.  Matt Lacosse, Lance Kendricks or Ben Watson -- when he returns -- won't be getting nine to ten targets per game.  No longer able to rely heavily on the tight end position, New England must do what it does better than the rest, adjust.

How?  By turning back the clocks to the early 2000's.  We saw it towards the tail end of last season, and into the postseason.  The Patriots turned to the run game, and overpowered teams.  When Brady dropped back to pass, it was either to a wide receiver or a running back.  There will be plenty of that this year, and it's going to be fine.

The tight ends for those first three Super Bowls were Jermaine Wiggins, Rod Rutledge, Daniel Graham and Christian Fauria.  None of those names blow you away.  They were fine players, some better than others, and each made some nice plays and had their moments.  However, none were anywhere near the level of Gronkowski.  They still made it work, though.

In those years, a young Brady targeted his receivers and running backs.  Guys like Troy Brown, David Patten, Kevin Faulk, David Givens, J.R. Redmond and Deion Branch.  He only looked for his tight ends on occasion.  It's not as if he's been playing with an elite tight end his entire career.  Even when he had Gronkowski, Brady had to learn to play without him on occasion, with all of the injuries Gronkowski suffered.

Now, Gronkowski is off of the field for good, but the Patriots are still left with weapons.  Sony Michel nearly rushed for 1,000 yards as a rookie, and missed three games.  He leads a deep New England backfield, so expect them to lean on the run game and control the ball.  James White and Rex Burkhead still cause matchup problems as pass catchers.  White may eclipse the 100 catch mark this year.

The biggest question lies with the wide receivers.  In Brady's early years he had multiple, reliable pass catchers.  After Julian Edelman, there are a lot of questions on this roster.  There are plenty of candidates to emerge, but it's all a guessing game at this point.  Rookie N'Keal Harry has the physical tools, and the work ethic, but rookie wide receivers have not fared well in New England.

Will Braxton Berrios emerge?  Will Maurice Harris catch on?  Can Phillip Dorsett continue to build a rapport with Brady?  Who knows when Demaryius Thomas will be healthy.  There are more questions than certainties surrounding the receiving corps.  However, a strong backfield and Edelman could be enough to get this team through, at least in the early months.  At some point, somebody else will need to emerge.

There won't be as many shots down the middle of the field.  There will be a lot of quick throws, screen passes and getting the ball to guys in space.

Maybe Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels saw the writing on the wall with Gronkowski, and started to adjust early.  While he turned it back up in the playoffs, and was a key part of the Super Bowl run, Gronkowski did not have the type of season we grew accustomed to seeing last year; statistically speaking.

Not including the two occasions where injuries forced him to miss half of the season, Gronkowski's 47 catches and 682 receiving yards last year were the lowest totals he had posted since his rookie season.  The Patriots likely will get lower production from their group of tight ends this year, but that will be okay.

Gronkowski will certainly be missed, but the Patriots will be okay.


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Boston Sports Syndicate: How the Patriots Will Survive Without Rob Gronkowski
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