Patriots Must Start Feeding Rob Gronkowski the Ball


Injuries are forcing the Patriots to switch things up offensively, but it is time to get back to basics and get their best player, Rob Gronkowski, more involved.

Despite rolling along with an unblemished 10-0 record, the New England Patriots are struggling with injuries as much as any other team in the NFL. While the injuries are not exclusively on the offensive side of the ball, they are much more of a problem on that unit.

The offensive line has been mixing and matching all season, as they try to account for injuries. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell missed the first six weeks of the season, and his primary back-up Aaron Dobson has been in-and-out of the lineup. Just a few weeks after the Patriots got LaFell back, they lost running back Dion Lewis for the season with a torn ACL.

Lewis had become a major weapon in the Patriots’ offense, excelling as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. Right after the Lewis injury, the Patriots suffered their worst blow, as slot receiver extraordinaire Julian Edelman broke his foot, and will likely miss at least the rest of the regular season.

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Edelman’s natural back-up Danny Amendola has performed great in his absence, but Amendola suffered a knee injury on Monday night. Luckily, it was just a sprain, and Amendola is not expect to miss an extended period of time, but his chances of suiting up this week against the Denver Broncos are less than stellar.

Simply put, the Patriots have been destroyed by injuries on the offensive side of the ball, and while Tom Brady can likely carry them through this hard time, it is not going to be easy.

The Patriots were able to get some reinforcements on the offensive line back on Monday night against the Bills, as tackles Sebastian Vollmer and Marcus Cannon returned to the line-up. Vollmer looked solid in his return, but Cannon was eaten alive on a consistent basis at the left tackle position.

The Patriots tried to mix-and-match their offensive line throughout the game, but the Bills were able to get major pressure on Brady throughout the night.

Now, the Bills have a high-priced pass rush, and Rex Ryan was using exotic pass rush principles to get pressure, but the offensive line simply did not play well on Monday night. In fact, their issues were obvious and clearly forced the Patriots to switch up their game plan.

Because of their struggles, the Patriots had to give the offensive line help, and that mostly meant tight end Rob Gronkowski staying in to block. I understand that Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels had to adjust on the fly to combat the pass rush, and keeping Gronkowski in to block makes a lot of sense on paper. He arguably the best blocking tight end in the league, and his help certainly slowed down the pass rush.

Sep 20, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) before a game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

That being said, without Edelman, Lewis and eventually Amendola, Gronkowski is clearly the top target in the Patriots’ arsenal. They need Gronkowski the receiver more than Gronkowski the blocker. If the Patriots need to help the offensive line block the pass rush, keep the running back in to protect on a consistent basis.

If it has to be a tight end blocking, get converted offensive tackle Michael Williams in there to help protect. With so many injuries to the wide receivers any way, more tight end sets would make a lot of sense anyway. Gronkowski could line up in-line or as a WR, with Williams staying in to block. Scott Chandler could also play a role as a receiver or blocker.

I would rather see Gronkowski as a receiver, and Williams as a blocker, as opposed to Gronkowski helping block while someone like Chris Harper runs pass routes as one of the primary targets.

Without their other top targets in the passing game, Gronkowski’s role becomes even more important to the team. However, the opposing defense is not stupid. Without Edelman and company to worry about, Gronkowski is going to see more attention from opposing defenses than ever before. Add in his extended role as a pass protector, and Gronkowski’s receiving numbers are likely to diminish.

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With all of that being said, if the Patriots’ offense expect to put up any kind of production like we saw earlier in the season, Gronkowski is going to have to be majorly involved.

Defenses are going to try to take him away, but don’t forget, this is Rob Gronkowski we are talking about. He is the biggest match-up nightmare in the entire NFL.

With a never before seen combination of massive size, great speed, incredible athleticism and brute strength, Gronkowski simply cannot be defended one-on-one. The problem is that team’s no longer have to defend him one-on-one in any scenario. Double and even triple coverage is becoming the norm for Gronkowski, but make no mistake, this has always been the case.

Sure, Gronkowski is receiving more attention from opposing defenses than he typically has in the past, but it was not like they were ignoring him before. Gronkowski has been the primary weapon defenses have been trying to take away from Brady for years, but he is too good to allow that to happen. He is automatic against single coverage, but he has shown plenty of ability to beat double coverage in the past as well.

Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time, and part of what makes him so great is his consistent ability to spread the ball around. It is against his best judgement to force the ball into Gronkowski when other receivers have man-to-man coverage, but none of them can make plays for him the way that Gronk can.

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Gronkowski has plenty of ability to handle the attention, and will still be able to make the plays when Brady needs him to. The Patriots have a Lamborghini in their star tight end, but they are holding it in the garage. It is time to let the top down and showcase their premier talent.

Rob Gronkowski is an elite play maker who can single-handily keep the Patriots’ offense effective with all of these injuries. Force him the ball if you must, but the Patriots need to let their best weapon make plays. It is time to get back to basics, and simply get their best player the football.