December 25, 2016


Life After Gronk (Danny Kelly, 12/23/16, The Ringer)

[W]hen Gronk got hurt, Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels didn't try to replace him. Instead, they just totally revamped their offense.

Now, tight ends are an afterthought, and the passing game is more conventional. Bennett has caught just 12 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown in the past five games. Edelman has returned to his familiar role as Brady's no. 1 option, catching passes on 37 of 67 targets for 409 yards and a score. Behind him, New England has leaned on its running backs in the passing game, with White and Dion Lewis, who recently returned from injury, combining for 34 catches for 293 yards and a touchdown. Malcolm Mitchell has emerged as another option, catching 22 balls for 277 yards and a team-high four touchdowns. (He had just three catches for 20 yards on six targets in the five games after Brady returned and before Gronk got hurt.) The only guy whose role has remained relatively constant is Hogan, who has 14 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns in that stretch.

Without Gronk, Brady has fallen back toward earth, but he's still been one of the best quarterbacks in football. In the past five games, he's completed 62 percent of his passes for 1,429 yards (285.8 per game), thrown 10 touchdowns and one interception, and compiled a 96.9 passer rating and thrown for 6.94 yards per pass attempt. Keep in mind: This stretch included games against two of the league's best defenses in the Ravens and Broncos.

As a whole, New England's offense has averaged 24.8 points per game and 5.7 yards per play since Gronkowski went down. While the passing game has slowed, the offensive line has kept Brady upright (they've surrendered just four sacks since Week 10), and the ground game has picked up some of the slack, averaging 125.2 yards per game at 4.32 yards per carry. And although the offense looks different, it remains pretty matchup proof: Whether the Patriots are facing a suffocating run defense or an unparalleled pass defense, they've shown the ability to change their game plan and execute it accordingly.

Just look at the past two weeks: Against Baltimore's elite run defense (which came into that week surrendering a league-low 3.41 yards per carry and 74 yards per game), the Patriots leaned on their pass attack to score points. Brady threw the ball 38 times for 406 yards and connected with his receivers for three touchdowns, but he did surrender one interception. The next week, against Denver's elite pass defense (which came into the game surrendering a league-low 183 passing yards and a 67.4 passer rating to opponents), the Patriots leaned on the run, rushing 39 times for 136 yards and a touchdown. They also identified Denver's linebackers as the vulnerability in the pass defense and looked early and often to White and Lewis out of the backfield. In total, 50 of the Patriots' 73 plays (68 percent) went through a running back, whether on the ground or through the air.

New England continues to benefit from being one of the most diverse, versatile offenses in the NFL. Hell, they're even getting fullback James Develin more involved. He played a season-high 43 snaps last Sunday and was instrumental on several run plays with his lead blocking. The Patriots come out with a different game plan every single week, and different playmakers are featured from game to game. They can beat you through the air with finesse, and they can run through you on the ground with power.

Posted by at December 25, 2016 10:47 AM