The New England Patriots’ defense has been able to to improve somehow despite losing some some of its best players. It’s unlikely the Patriots’ offense will do the same next Monday night without tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski was suspended one game after he stupidly drove a shoulder into Tre’Davious White’s helmet Sunday when the Buffalo Bills cornerback was already down and out of bounds after an interception. Gronkowski is appealing the one-game ban, but what if he doesn’t win? How will the Patriots’ offense look?
It could be the Patriots’ biggest offensive challenge yet, despite the fact that their Week 14 opponents, the Miami Dolphins, are (how do we put this nicely?) not very good. Wide receiver Chris Hogan’s shoulder injury showed progress prior to Week 13, but he didn’t return to practice. So the Patriots could be down to wide receivers Brandin Cooks, Danny Amendola, Phillip Dorsett, Bernard Reedy and Matthew Slater, tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister, and running backs James White, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead and James Develin. No one is going to feel too bad for quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots for that slew of offensive weapons, but some struggles are to be expected without Gronkowski, Hogan and Julian Edelman, who was lost for the season this summer.
Gronkowski accounted for 60.2 percent of the Patriots’ 244 passing yards against the Bills on Sunday when he caught nine passes on 11 targets for 147 yards. Brady barely targeted his receivers Sunday, and the Patriots’ running backs weren’t a big part of the passing attack.
The Patriots’ running backs picked up the slack on the ground, rushing for 191 yards on 35 carries, but the Dolphins will account for the fact that New England likely will have to rely more on their rushing attack with Gronkowski out. That could make life difficult for Lewis and Burkhead on the ground.
Gronkowski also had a monster day in Week 12 against the Dolphins, when he caught five passes for 82 yards with two touchdowns. Cooks went off for 83 yards and a touchdown on six catches, but running backs had just four catches for 7 yards.
It’s important for Cooks, Amendola, White and Burkhead to have strong performances in the passing game next Monday night. Allen has maxed out with a season high of two catches for 24 yards in Week 11, so it’s not wise to expect him to replace Gronkowski. Hollister has shown some promise as a receiver, but he has just three catches for 37 yards on the season and hasn’t recorded a reception since Week 8.
The Patriots could elect to sign tight end Will Tye off their practice squad to add another offensive weapon. They’ll have an empty spot on their roster with Gronkowski suspended. Tye was a starting tight end as of September, when he still was on the New York Jets. He caught 90 passes for 859 yards with four touchdowns in two seasons with the New York Giants in 2015 and 2016. The Connecticut native has been on the practice squad since October, so it’s reasonable to expect him to have the offense down at this point.
Regardless of whether Gronkowski wins his appeal or not, the Patriots should absolutely win next Monday night in Miami — that’s not in question — but it could be a slog for the offense without their second best player.