NEPD Staff Writer: Jason Cappell
Opening week was a rough start for the New England Patriots. They have no excuses. Miami simply outplayed New England and deservedly earned the win. The Patriots failed to execute both offensively and defensively, but if there is anything positive to take away from their crushing loss, it was the impactful return of Rob Gronkowski.
Plain and simple Gronk is a catalyst for the Patriots offense. With a substantially improved defense, the Patriots once again entered the season with a “Super Bowl or bust” attitude. But without a healthy Gronk come January, they don’t stand much of a chance.
While the tight end has been a world class talent, throughout his career he has dealt with his fair share of injuries during critical parts of the year. Patriots’ fans are counting on this year finally being different. Unfortunately, in Week 1 Gronk’s impact was somewhat mitigated as not only was he playing for the first time in months, but his snap count was also going to be limited. But while Gronkowski played in less than half of New England’s snaps, he still managed to make his impact felt as he caught four passes including a touchdown. It isn’t just the touchdown that should be noticed by the Patriots fans. Gronk was targeted a team high 11 times and played critical snaps on both third downs and in the red zone.
Nobody should have expected Gronkowski to put up monster numbers coming out of the gate, but as the season goes on we may see the Gronk of old. Getting a fully healthy Gronk back for the entire season would, without a doubt, do wonders for Tom Brady and the Patriots’ offense. Last year’s inexperienced and unreliable receiving corps made Gronkowski the one guy Brady could absolutely trust to not only catch the ball, but also consistently fend off double-teams and bowl over defenders in the process.
Gronkowski isn’t just a great tight end he’s a human highlight reel. At 6’6″ and 265 pounds, Gronk is too big for cornerbacks and safeties to effectively cover and too fast for linebackers. Not only is Gronkowski an elite pass catcher, but he’s also a tremendous inline blocker. After sending Logan Mankins to Tampa, it’s likely the Patriots interior offensive line will struggle at times. Gronkowski’s mere presence should help alleviate some of those concerns. Gronk is an asset in the run game, and will help create space for running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley.
After playing just 18 games in the past two seasons, no one will mistake Gronk for an iron man, but then again no one can question his career numbers. In just 45 career starts he’s made 230 catches for 3,295 yards and a staggering 43 touchdowns. Since he entered the NFL in 2010, Gronk leads the NFL in red-zone touchdowns (30), quarterback-to-receiver completion percentage (72.2) and yards after contact per reception (2.54).
From a statistical standpoint the impact Gronk has on the game is undeniable. With him on the field last season Brady posted a 65.7% completion rate, a 23:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 106.6 passer rating. And without him those numbers plummeted to a 58.9 completion percentage, an 11:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of only 87.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude that Gronk’s absence from the line-up is a crushing blow to his quarterback Tom Brady. Last season, in four of his first six games without Gronkowski, Brady completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes which is a clip unheard of for one of the most accurate passers of all time. In the seven games Gronkowski played last seasons, Brady eclipsed the 300 yard plateau four times, including a season-high 413 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In the 11 games without Gronk, Brady only had two 300+ yard games.
With Gronk on the field the Patriots offense is not only more potent but also far more difficult for defensive coordinators to stymie. In the seven games Gronk played last season, the Patriots averaged 32 points per game, which is nearly a touchdown more than they averaged without him.
While Gronkowski’s regular season numbers have been remarkable, his post season numbers have left fans puzzled. In just five career postseason games Gronkowski has only been Gronkowski once, an enormous three touchdown game against the Denver Broncos in 2012. His playoff totals in his four other playoff games add up to a measly 178 yards and no touchdowns.
Brady has always relied on his tight end when he’s on the field, but the problem is he can’t always rely on him to actually stay on the field. Gronkowski came into the league with a reputation for being injury-prone, and hasn’t played a full season since 2011. With yet another season underway all Patriots’ fans can do is hope. They’ll hope that this year is different and that somehow Gronkowski can stay healthy all season long in order to be the missing playoff ingredient that takes them back to the Super Bowl.
Tags: Rob Gronkowski