Here’s How Tom Brady Has Adapted In Weeks Since Losing Rob Gronkowski


January 26, 2017

Rob Gronkowski’s season-ending back injury certainly didn’t cripple the New England Patriots. They’ve yet to lose since the All-Pro tight end went down, after all, and they’ll take the field in a Super Bowl next Sunday for a record ninth time.

The loss of Gronkowski did, however, force quarterback Tom Brady, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the rest of the Patriots’ offense to alter their game plan. To further examine, we took a look at how Brady has fared — and which receivers he has targeted — in games with and without Gronkowski this season.

Note: We’re counting the Week 12 win over the New York Jets — the last game before Gronkowski was placed on injured reserve — in the “without Gronk” column, since he played just seven snaps in that contest and didn’t catch a pass. 

Brady in five games with Gronk (4-1 record):
121-of-166 (72.9 percent), 1,635 passing yards (327.0 per game), 12 touchdowns, one interception

Brady in nine games without Gronk (9-0 record, including 2-0 in postseason):
220-of-346 (63.9 percent), 2,590 passing yards (287.8 per game), 21 touchdowns, three interceptions

As you can see, Brady’s completion percentage and yards-per-game average both significantly dropped with Gronkowski out of the lineup, but the QB actually threw slightly more touchdowns per game (2.1 with to 2.3 without), and his interception rate remained basically the same.

When Gronkowski was on the field (again, excluding Week 12), Brady targeted him on 19.9 percent of his passes. During that span, the QB threw wide receiver Julian Edelman’s way 26.5 percent of the time, running back James White 17.5 percent, tight end Martellus Bennett 16.2 percent and receiver Chris Hogan 9.0 percent.

Here’s a look at how often Brady has targeted each of his skill players since Gronkowski went down:

Patriots targets chart

Edelman was Brady’s favorite target even before Gronk was lost for the season, but he’s risen to another level entirely in the nine games since. Throws to Edelman have accounted for 32.1 percent of Brady’s passes since Week 11, far and away the highest mark on the team. Hogan and White are tied for a distant second at 12.7 percent apiece.

Edelman has averaged 12.3 targets per game over New England’s last nine contests — including one game with 17 and another with 15 — and has been the team leader in that category in all but one of them.

Gronkowski was the most-targeted Patriots player in just one of the five games he played with Brady, and even in that one, he was only a co-leader. He and White both were targeted nine times in a Week 6 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, with Gronkowski hauling in seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in his best game of the season.

While Bennett certainly has taken on a larger role in Gronkowski’s absence, he’s not being used nearly as much in the passing game, with Brady targeting him on just 10.1 percent of passes over the Patriots’ last nine games.

The same goes for New England’s tight end group as a whole, as Bennett and backup Matt Lengel have been targeted just 38 times post-Gronkowski — less than 11 percent of Brady’s throws. When Gronk and Bennett both were active, Brady threw to tight ends 36.1 percent of the time.

What does that all mean? If the trend of the last two-and-a-half months continues in Super Bowl LI, expect a wide receiver-heavy passing attack against the Atlanta Falcons.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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