Tom Brady Has Struggled More Without Shane Vereen Than Rob Gronkowski, Third-Down Back Needed for Playoff Run

Craig Robertson, Shane VereenFOXBORO, Mass. — There’s a debate to made over which offensive weapon Tom Brady has missed more this season.

One would think Rob Gronkowski would be the obvious answer, right? He’s only one of the best tight ends in the NFL, an All-Pro and one of the biggest mismatches an opposing defense can face.

But they say numbers never lie, right? The numbers say Brady has missed running back Shane Vereen more this season, though only slightly. Vereen missed eight games after breaking his wrist in Week 1. Then he missed three quarters of Sunday’s game against the Ravens after hurting his groin. He was back at practice on Tuesday.

Let’s look at Brady’s numbers this season with and without two of his favorite targets.

-Tom Brady’s 2013 stats: 15 games, 366-604, 4,221 yards, 60.6%, 6.99 yards per attempt, 24 TDs, 10 INTs, 88 QB rating
-Brady with Vereen: 6.25 games, 191-296, 2,145, 64.5%, 7.2 YPA, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 93.7 QB rating
-Brady without Vereen: 8.75 games, 171-308, 2,076, 55.5%, 6.7 YPA, 11 TDs, 5 INTs, 81.6 QB rating
-Brady with Gronkowski: 6.5 games, 161-255, 1,937, 63.1%, 7.5 YPA, 11 TDs, 5 INTs, 92.6 QB rating
-Brady without Gronkowski: 8.5 games, 205-349, 2,284, 58.7%, 6.5 YPA, 13 TDs, 5 INTs, 84.7 QB rating
-Brady without Gronkowski and Vereen: 5.5 games, 117-207, 1,300 yards, 56.5%, 6.3 YPA, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 79 QB rating
-Brady with Gronkowski and Vereen: 3.5 games, 103-154, 1,161 yards, 66.9%, 7.5 YPA, 6 TDs, 3 INTs, 94.1 QB rating

A lot of those numbers make sense. Brady has a higher completion percentage with Vereen, but more yards per attempt with Gronkowski. Obviously, the numbers become very glaring when Brady has both Gronkowski and Vereen versus neither one of them.

What it really comes down to is that Brady can afford to be missing one of them but not both. Throughout Brady’s three years with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, he never had to be apart from both of them. They were never injured at the same time. It’s entirely possible we would have seen Brady struggle just as much as he did early this year if he had to be without those two dangerous targets at the same time in years past.

“He’s a big part of our offense,” Brady said about Vereen. “Any time you’re missing really good players, it affects the offense, and Shane’s one of the good ones, one of the best that we have on our team. Everyone has a lot of confidence in what he’s able to do, and when he’s out there and playing well and part of the offense, our offense does a much better job.”

Brady has never been without that third-down option out of the backfield for a long stretch before. He had Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass early in his career, then Danny Woodhead came along and finally Vereen. With Vereen out, Brandon Bolden had to play the role. Bolden’s a better runner than he is a pass catcher. He does not have the same versatility as Vereen in his pass catching and route running.

The Patriots will need Vereen healthy if they plan on making a run in the playoffs this year. If that means sitting the third-down back for Week 17, so be it. They likely are not getting anywhere in the postseason without him.

Have a question for Doug Kyed? Send it to him via Twitter at @DougKyedNESN or send it here.