December 14, 2013

Patriots adjusting on offense again

With Rob Gronkowski out, other players need to step forward.

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots always stress that no one player is more valuable than the next.

click image to enlarge

Rob Gronkowski, when healthy, has been one of the most dominating players in the NFL over the past few seasons. His season-ending injury puts plenty of pressure on New England quarterback Tom Brady, as well as the receivers who need to pick up the slack.

The Associated Press

The gronk-OUT-SKI effect

The New England Patriots took a huge hit last Sunday when tight end Rob Gronkowski went down with a season-ending knee injury. The stats show his importance, and now the team must fill the void. 

Pre-Gronkowski (Games 1-6)

Points per game: 20.8 (22nd in NFL)

Passing offense: 228.3 yards (19)

Total offense: 348.8 yards (14)

Touchdowns scored: 11

Tom Brady stats: 56.9 completion percentage, 6.19 yards per attempt, eight touchdowns, 79.8 QB rating 

Post-Gronkowski (Games 7-13)

Points per game: 26.8 (5)

Passing offense: 265.9 yards (8)

Total offense: 385.9 yards (8)

Touchdowns scored: 37

Tom Brady stats: 60.8 completion percentage, 7.05 yards per attempt, 21 touchdowns, 88.3 QB rating

PATRIOTS (10-3) at DOLPHINS (7-6)

WHEN: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TELEVISION: CBS

SERIES RECORD: Miami leads 50-46

LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Dolphins 27-17, Oct. 27, 2013

LAST WEEK: Dolphins beat Steelers 34-28; Patriots beat Browns 27-26

PATRIOTS OFFENSE: Overall (8), Rush (13), Pass (8).

PATRIOTS DEFENSE: Overall (24), Rush (31), Pass (16).

DOLPHINS OFFENSE: Overall (24), Rush (23), Pass (19).

DOLPHINS DEFENSE: Overall (16), Rush (23), Pass (13).

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: New England has beaten the Dolphins seven consecutive times, including three wins in Miami. Only eight current Miami players have beaten New England while wearing Dolphins uniform. … Tom Brady is only 6-5 in Miami, although his passer rating there is 95.9. … With victory, the Patriots clinch a fifth consecutive AFC East title. … Brady seeks an 11th division title, most of any quarterback in NFL history. … The Patriots have had three consecutive come-from-behind victories. Brady has thrown for more than 200 yards in the second half of all three games, with a passer rating of 127.5. ... New England is allowing 136 yards rushing per game, second-worst in league. … Patriots opponents have converted 44 percent of third downs, second-highest in the league. … With wins the past two weeks, the Patriots are 47-6 in December since 2001, best in the NFL. … Dolphins opponents have a 76.1 passer rating, which is the third-lowest in the league. … Despite their winning record, the Dolphins have been outgained by 310 yards. … Miami’s Olivier Vernon has seven sacks in the past four games. ... Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 47 times, a Dolphins record.

– The Associated Press

Rob Gronkowski may be the exception to that rule.

With the tight end in their lineup for six-plus games, the Patriots’ offense finally resembled what most New England fans have come to expect. Tom Brady was completing more passes for more yards and more touchdowns, the Patriots were scoring more points, and there was a reasonable expectation that this team could go deep into the playoffs.

But Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury in last Sunday’s 27-26 win over Cleveland changed all that. Many football observers feel New England’s chances of winning the Super Bowl this year ended when Gronkowski went down. And the stats could back them up.

Nonetheless, Brady insists the Patriots will be OK.

“I would say our offense is pretty much our offense, so the other guys that are going to be in there filling that role and playing tight end for us have to do a great job,’’ he said. “We always try to find ways to use a guy’s skill set, and we run it decent at times, we throw it decent at times … We still have confidence that we can go out and win games.’’

But the numbers might suggest otherwise. When Gronkowski missed the first six games of the season while recovering from offseason surgeries to his right forearm and back, the Patriots averaged 20.8 points per game (ranked 22nd in the 32-team NFL), the passing offense averaged 228.3 yards per game (19th) and New England had scored just 11 touchdowns. Brady was completing just 56.9 percent of his passes, with an average of 6.19 yards per attempt and a rating of 79.5.

After the Gronk Effect for six-plus games, the Patriots are now averaging 26.8 points (fifth), passing for 265.9 yards (eighth) and have scored 37 touchdowns. Brady’s completion rate is up to 60.8, he averages 7.05 yards per attempt and has a rating of 88.3.

So in the games that Gronkowski played, Brady completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 13 touchdowns and 2,205 yards. His average per attempt was 7.76 yards. And New England averaged 32.8 points a game.

THERE’S MORE THAN GRONK

The thing to remember is that the offense is in much better shape now than it was at the start of the year. When Gronkowski missed the first six games, running back Shane Vereen missed the last five of them and wide receiver Danny Amendola missed three. Both are now healthy and contributing mightily.

And then there’s Julian Edelman, who has surpassed every preseason expectation, and is ranked sixth in the NFL with 76 catches for 775 yards and five touchdowns.

Still, Gronkowski’s presence opened the field for all the other receivers. Without him, what can we expect?

Look for Vereen, Edelman and Amendola to carry the bulk of the receiving game. In the last three games the three have been targeted by Brady 85 times, catching 61 for 632 yards and five touchdowns, three by Edelman.

Edelman and Amendola will continue to operate in the slots, underneath the zones. Vereen causes matchup nightmares for every team. He’s a running back in position only, often lining up as a wide receiver and having a linebacker attempting to cover him man-to-man.

He has, in particular, provided a jolt to the offense. In Sunday’s win over Cleveland he set franchise records for most catches (12) and receiving yards (153) by a running back.

“Shane does a good job,’’ said Coach Bill Belichick. “He’s got good quickness, he’s got good instinctive receiver skills, kind of when to make decisions relative to leverage he’s being played with, the coverage – man, zone – linebacker leverage and so forth.’’

(Continued on page 2)

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