New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski only has one touchdown in 2018 and it came all the way back in the season opener. He is on pace for 74 receptions, 986 yards, and a mere three touchdowns this year.
For the record, this is still a great year for a tight end, especially with Gronkowski still blocking at an extremely high level. Over the past decade, Jason Witten (5 times), Jimmy Graham (4 times), Greg Olsen (3 times), Tony Gonzalez (2 times), Vernon Davis (2 times), and Travis Kelce (2 times) are the only tight ends to exceed 900 receiving yards multiple times.
These tight ends make up all but four of the past First or Second Team All Pro distinctions over the past decade.
Gronkowski has exceed 900 receiving yards four times and each time he was named First Team All Pro. But we also have a different set of standards for Gronk and 3 touchdowns would tie his 8-game 2016 season for the least in his entire career.
There are reasons for the “lack” of production, too.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when Gronk had a mere 15 yards on 2 catches, free safety Tashaun Gipson covered the tight end “man on man” for “much of the game.” Gipson said that “the key was getting his hands on Gronkowski early in routes and being physical.”
Gipson did a great job, but he also had some help underneath from coverage linebackers Telvin Smith and Myles Jack, who helped out with the high-low bracket coverage.
Against the Detroit Lions, Gronkowski had 51 yards on 4 catches and Lions head coach Matt Patricia went heavy with the bracket coverage, too. He had safeties on the inside and outside of Gronkowski and made sure to hit the tight end at the line of scrimmage as often as possible to prevent him from building into his routes.
Both the Jaguars and Lions were able to dedicate their defensive resources to stopping Gronkowski because they didn’t believe anyone else could carry the Patriots offense. Telvin Smith mentioned that there were only two players that Brady could rely on in the offense: Gronkowski and running back James White. White had 84 yards against the Jaguars, but no other Patriots player was able to step up and deliver.
The introduction of Josh Gordon, the return of Julian Edelman, and the continued development of Sony Michel should help Gronkowski face softer coverages. But these three factors coincided with Gronkowski suffering an ankle injury ahead of the week 4 match-up against the Miami Dolphins that has lingered through week 5 against the Indianapolis Colts.
So whether it’s a combination of great defensive play or Gronk battling an injury, the end result is a measly 46.3 yards per game over the past four weeks and Gronkowski hasn’t scored a touchdown.
This is only the second time in Gronkowski’s entire career that he’s gone four straight games without at touchdown.
Gronk has gone 4 games in a row without a touchdown.— Rich Hill (@PP_Rich_Hill) October 5, 2018
Hasn't happened since 2011. He's gonna start scoring soon.
The other time? Gronkowski’s historic 2011 season, when he failed to record a touchdown in games 4-7. He finished that season with 1,329 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Maybe Gronkowski will go on a tear and start scoring more. I would be thrilled to see that happen. More realistically, I think Gronkowski’s days of averaging a touchdown per game are a thing of the past.
When looking at Gronkowski’s 16-game moving total over the course of his career (ie: looking at how many touchdowns he’s scored over the previous 16 games), Gronkowski peaked in 2011 after the divisional round blowout against the Denver Broncos, with 20 touchdowns in the previous 16 games.
Gronkowski has scored 10 or fewer touchdowns over the previous 16 games in just 33 of his 105 weeks that qualify (ie: everything after the 16th game of his rookie season). Three of those weeks came at the end of his rookie year when he had 10 touchdowns, and into the first week of 2011. A fourth time came after his previous 4-game scoreless streak in 2011.
Gronk then averaged 11 or more touchdowns in his 16-game rolling total in 64 of his next 65 weeks (the one exception: week 7 of 2014, which includes his hobbled 2013 season).
But since the start of the 2016 season, Gronkowski has averaged 10 or fewer touchdowns in 28 of a possible 30 weeks. He’s entering his third consecutive season of reduced scoring where we have to legitimately ask ourselves if the injuries have caught up to Gronkowski.
The tight end started the 2016 season with a hamstring injury that sidelined him for two games and then he suffered a back injury that required his third career back surgery. He missed Julian Edelman in 2017, but Gronkowski still had his least-productive All Pro season (cue the eye rolls).
Whatever’s happened to Gronkowski, he’s still the best tight end in the NFL. It should be noted that Gronkowski’s decline in touchdowns hasn’t really impacted his yardage total as he’s ranged between 1,100-1,300 yards for most of his career. He’s the best run blocking tight end and he remains one of the top receiving targets.
I expect Gronkowski to start scoring more touchdowns, even if he never comes close to his 18-touchdown season in 2011. But the distance between Gronkowski as a receiver and the rest of the tight ends in the league has shrunk.
And, if we’re lucky, Gronk will score three touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs and will end up spiking this entire article into the dirt.