New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski is suspended for Monday’s game against the Miami Dolphins and that will have a big impact on the Patriots offense. Whenever a team loses its second-best player, there will be a huge effect on the rest of the roster.
The other tight ends will have to step up, as will players at other positions like wide receiver and running back. Head coach Bill Belichick is ready for the adjustment.
“Every week, you deal with the players that you have available and the opponent you’re playing,” Belichick said. “You put it together and figure it out. It’s the same every week.”
The top replacement is Dwayne Allen, who stepped up when Gronkowski was injured in week 5 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Belichick thinks Allen is playing better than before.
“Dwayne works hard,” Belichick said. “He does whatever we ask him to do. He works very hard at it, whatever his role is. His role in the Tampa game was different than the role before or however it turns out. Sometimes we’re in more three-receiver sets, sometimes it’s more two-receiver sets, sometimes it’s a fullback, sometimes it’s a fullback and two tight ends, sometimes it’s two tight ends. He’s ready to go and always prepared and always works hard at his job, tries to get it right. We all make mistakes. We all correct them and try to do them better the next time. He’s embraced that.”
Allen will see a big up-tick in snaps without Gronkowski, as should Jacob Hollister and James Develin, and potentially practice squad tight end Will Tye, who Belichick thinks has improved in his time with New England.
“[Tye is] athletic, improved a lot,” Belichick said. “We’ve asked him to do some things that he’s worked on and he’s shown good improvement in. He’s a big guy that can run and catch and has presence on the line of scrimmage to block, so he’s done a good job.”
Whether or not Tye is promoted, or if Allen or Hollister see more time, or if Chris Hogan returns or Phillip Dorsett finally gets targeted, the loss of Gronkowski in the Patriots offense will have a serious impact because he makes the entire unit better.
The fantasy football website RotoViz.com has a neat calculator to show how teams perform with and without certain players for the game. For example, we can see how the Patriots have performed in the regular season with or without Rob Gronkowski dating back to the start of his career in 2010.
What we see is clear. Tom Brady throws more without Gronkowski, but his completion rate, touchdown rate, and yards per attempt drop and his interception rate nearly doubles. The passing game takes a huge dip, while the running game changes shape. The Patriots gain more yards per carry with Gronkowski gone, but they score less.
Overall, the offense which scores roughly 80% as much when Gronkowski is gone, even if the overall yardage gained is similar. That’s the power of Gronkowski in the red zone.
I think it’s also important to look at how the Patriots offense has functioned in recent years because the Tom Brady from 2010 was also very different from the Brady of the past few years.
And while the loss of Gronkowski is still evident, it’s important to note that his loss has had less of a damper on the offense in recent years.
The Patriots still score 0.17 more points per drive with Gronkowski on the field (roughly 2 points per game) and Tom Brady’s interception rate increases without his tight end. But overall, the decline in offensive production is much less striking- and since the “out of split” includes three games led by Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett at the start of the 2016 season, the difference might be negligible.
Of course you have to also factor in other variables like having Martellus Bennett to take over for Gronkowski in 2016, and not having Julian Edelman now, and having Brandin Cooks instead, so it’s not a perfect model.
But the offense is better with Gronkowski around- and just how much better will be highlighted on Monday night.