When you take a quick, superficial glance at the New England Patriots offense, it appears that they haven’t missed a beat with tight end Rob Gronkowski out for the last five games.
However, a deeper look might shed some light on how much Gronk has been really been missed -- especially by Tom Brady.
Let’s start with Brady’s numbers without Gronkowski over the last five games. Since Week 11 Tom Brady has thrown 8 TDs to 5 INTs, which is absolutely terrible when you see what Brady’s ratio was with Gronkowski in the lineup. (It was 24 TDs to 3 INTs). Those numbers combined with what I have seen from watching the games, tells me that Gronkowski provides Brady with some sort of a security blanket. I mean, besides Wes Welker, Gronkowski is without doubt Brady’s favorite target on 3rd down. Plus, Gronkowski brings a down the field threat to the table that Welker is lacking.
Also, Brady’s three worst passer ratings on the year—74.8, 68.9, and 73.9—have come in the last five games that Gronkowski has missed. Not to mention that in two of those games the Patriots scored less than 24 points for only the third and fourth times all year.
Now, this is not to take anything away from Aaron Hernandez, who has very solid numbers for a tight end, but Brady obviously has a better comfort level with Gronkowski and prefers to use Hernandez in other ways (see last year), mainly because he has been used to having both tight ends healthy at the same time until this year.
That is why I think the Patriots really need Gronkowski to play in the regular season finale this weekend against the Dolphins. Brady needs to find the rhythm he had with Gronkowski earlier in the year, plus the Patriots would love to finally see what they could do with different formations with Gronkowski and Hernandez BOTH healthy.
The Patriots have known for a while that any chance they have at another super bowl runs through the success of their offense and Tom Brady. The last 5 weeks have shown me that Brady’s success—based on the numbers—runs through Rob Gronkowski.
Follow Cole Stevenson on Twitter: @Cole_Stevenson