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Film Review: How did Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski look in his first game of 2016?

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Gronkowski showed that he could block some of the best defenders in the NFL.

New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski suited up for the first time all season on Thursday Night Football against the Houston Texans. I wanted to look at the tape to see how he fared in his first game back.

I have Gronkowski down for playing 14 snaps all game, with two of them coming on the kneel-downs to close out the first half- so really there are just 12 snaps to evaluate.

Of those 12 snaps, the Patriots called 6 passing plays and 6 rushing plays. He played 7 first downs, 5 second downs, and 1 third down. Fellow TE Martellus Bennett was a part of 11 of those plays and RB LeGarrette Blount played 10 of them (with one snap apiece for James White and Brandon Bolden).

I should also note that the Patriots favored putting Chris Hogan over Julian Edelman as the only wide receiver on the field for packages with FB James Develin. Bennett’s three targets and one carry all came with Gronkowski on the field, which shows how important the return of Gronkowski can be for Bennett’s offensive production.

Gronkowski ran just one route: the bungled end zone fade that never had a chance. That was his only third down play and took place without Bennett and with White. Gronkowski stayed in to block on the other 11 snaps.

While Gronkowski didn’t get a chance to put his receiving talents on display, he showed enough power and ability as a blocker to think that he’s going to have a dominant season.

Gronkowski was asked to block Watt one-on-one twice and chip him twice. He routinely overpowered Watt and rendered him ineffective.

Gronkowski was also asked to block defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney one-on-one on the goal line and Gronkowski removed him from the plays.

Watt and Clowney are the Texans two best defenders and Gronkowski showed that he could handle them both in one-on-one scenarios. That’s a pretty comforting result from only a handful of snaps.

I speculate that the Patriots limited Gronkowski’s route running because they didn’t want to expose him to potentially reinjuring his hamstring by running in the open field. While I know that you need your legs to block, I feel like running is a far greater risk to reinjury in this case. My belief is founded in nothing, but that’s my thought.

Gronkowski got his feet wet with small contributions against the Texans and I would expect him to see a few more snaps this upcoming week against the Bills- perhaps we’ll see him in the passing game. It would make sense that the Patriots are trying to align Gronkowski’s return with quarterback Tom Brady against the Browns and we should see them both get a real chance to shake off rust against a pretty horrendous Browns squad.

It might have been just 12 snaps of value for Gronkowski, but like Brady in the preseason these snaps have value for a player’s mental approach. Gronkowski’s football strength is there and, at the very least, he can resume his rank as the top blocking tight end in all of football.