Running back Rex Burkhead is battling a concussion and rookie Sony Michel has a knee injury, while Jeremy Hill is on the injured reserve. Wide receiver Julian Edelman is suspended and Chris Hogan was a ghost against the Houston Texans. Tight end Jacob Hollister is fighting an injury of his own.
Who are the players that you can rely on producing in the Patriots offense this week?
Phillip Dorsett had the game of his career against the Texans and it would be too much to ask him to elevate to another level of production this week; I’d be thrilled if he could come anywhere close to replicating it against A.J. Bouye or Jalen Ramsey. Maybe Hogan can have a rebound game and draw away some attention.
James White can catch the ball out of the backfield, but that’s a tall order against Myles Jack and Telvin Smith. White isn’t a major threat to run the ball, which could make the Patriots offense one-dimensional and allow Jacksonville to drop extra players into coverage.
Beyond those two- and maybe Hogan- there’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who is still developing a role in the offense; Dwayne Allen, who hasn’t been a big target in New England; ...and James Develin?
Unless you want to heap a load of production on the recently signed Corey Coleman, Bennie Fowler, or Kenjon Barner, or believe that this is the year that Matthew Slater breaks out as a receiver, then Gronkowski will be the centerpiece of the offense and more.
Fortunately, Tom Brady and the Patriots trust Gronkowski to produce, no matter the circumstance.
“I know his body language,” Brady said about his tight end. “I know his ability to run and what routes. He can do it. He can do really all the routes. It’s just a matter of giving him a chance.”
“It’s trust, it’s dependability, and then it’s ability to execute under pressure when it matters the most,” Brady said later.
Gronkowski is dependable, when healthy, and he acknowledges that he and Brady have built their rapport through “a lot of practice, no doubt.” No one would be surprised to see Gronk erupt for a huge day, even if he’s covered by Ramsey or bracketed by the Jaguars linebackers and safeties.
Gronkowski’s had 19 multi-touchdown games over the course of his career, but he’s exceeded 150 receiving yards just three times. He might have to combine those two milestones on Sunday.
Last week, Gronkowski collected 7 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown. He’ll have to do more than that to beat the Jaguars if the rest of the offense plays like they did in the opener.
“Rob’s hard to cover and Tom can put the ball where only Rob can get it and Rob can get a lot of those,” Belichick said. “I’m glad we have them. They’re both great players.”
And they’ll have to be great to get a win in Jacksonville.