FOXBORO, Mass. — Last week was Rob Gronkowski‘s comeback party. This week could be his coming-out party.
It’s tough to poke holes in the Dolphins’ defense, but if there’s one weakness in the otherwise impressive unit, it’s the linebackers. Starters Phillip Wheeler, Dannell Ellerbe and Koa Misi have struggled in coverage this season, especially against top-tier tight ends.
The two most comparable players to Gronkowski that Miami has faced this season are Jordan Cameron of Cleveland and Jimmy Graham of the Saints. Cameron caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 1 and Graham caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns in Week 4. Miami did a better job against Coby Fleener, Tony Gonzalez, Ed Dickson and Scott Chandler, but those players aren’t quite on Gronkowski’s level.
The Patriots tight end had a big day against the Jets in his season debut with eight catches for 114 yards, but the stats look better than his actual performance. He was targeted 17 times by Tom Brady and had a couple plays that showed he still had some rust to knock off. Brady relied too heavily on his big target, especially near the end of the game.
But with his first performance of the season under his belt, Gronkowski could break out on Sunday. And with Gronkowski, Brady could also churn out his first vintage performance of the season. And with those two powers combined, the third-down and red-zone offenses could play at a level above embarrassment.
The Patriots are currently ranked 28th in third-down offense and 25th in red-zone conversions. New England is only converting 33.3 percent of third downs and they’re scoring touchdowns on 45.8 percent of red-zone opportunities. Not having Gronkowski, as well as Shane Vereen, has been a big part of New England’s struggles in those situations.
The Patriots can beat Miami. The Dolphins have lost three straight now to the Saints, Ravens and Bills. By transitive property, New England beat the Saints and Bills, so obviously the Patriots can beat the Dolphins. If only it worked that way.
But to beat the Dolphins, Brady has to play better than he has all season. Miami has a tough secondary and some top-tier pass rushers. Left defensive end Cameron Wake may be the most underrated player in the league. Interior defenders Jared Odrick and Randy Starks are tough to stop and young defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Dion Jordan can do some damage off the edge.
That means that Brady will likely be hurried all day yet again. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson may not have time to get open down the field, so the quarterback will be relying on Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Miami cornerback Jimmy Wilson has done a good job from the slot this season, so Amendola and Edelman could be limited. That means Gronkowski should be relied up heavily for the second week in a row.
It would be best if Gronkowski is not targeted 17 times this week, but if he is, he should have a better performance than he did at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey last Sunday.