Hannable: Just like Julian Edelman carried Patriots offense in 2016, Rob Gronkowski needs to in 2017

Ryan Hannable
September 14, 2017 - 10:54 pm

Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

FOXBORO -- With Rob Gronkowski missing the end of last season due to season-ending back surgery, Julian Edelman put the Patriots offense on his back.

The receiver closed the season with 11 straight games (including the playoffs) with at least 70 yards receiving on the way to the Patriots winning Super Bowl LI.

Now, with Edelman out for the season with a torn ACL, Gronkowski needs to be like Edelman was last year and carry the offense in his absence.

It’s not going to be easy, but Gronkowski is the best tight end in the game and has the greatest quarterback of all-time in Tom Brady.

Edelman is extremely valuable to the offense. Just look at Brady’s numbers the last time Edelman missed significant time in 2015 with a broken foot. According to Pro Football Focus, in the games Edelman started, Brady had a completion percentage of 65 percent and averaged 355 passing yards, while the Patriots went 10-1. Then in the games Edelman missed, Brady had a completion percentage of 58.6 percent and averaged 297 passing yards, while the Patriots had a record of 4-5.

Gronkowski needs to be the player Brady looks to on the big third downs, late in games, pretty much whenever he needs a big play. The tight end has been one of Brady’s favorite targets over the years, but just not at Edelman’s level. That needs to change.

With Edelman gone and Malcolm Mitchell on injured reserve, the Patriots have just Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola (likely out Sunday with knee injury and concussion) and Phillip Dorsett at the receiver position. The offense needs other players to step up and Gronkowski is at the top of the list.

One of the biggest obstacles Gronkowski will need to overcome is not letting how defenses cover him impact how he plays. An example of this came last Thursday against the Chiefs when they were very physical with him, sometimes bordering a penalty, and it got to him. He was clearly frustrated and didn’t play the way many know he is capable of playing.

“I feel like whenever I think about that like, ‘Oh, I can’t be physical because of the referee, I might get a penalty,’ I actually feel myself off my game,” Gronkowski said Wednesday. “I feel like I should just play my game and just worry about what the ref is calling and be physical. I don’t like thinking like that, like, ‘Oh, I can’t be physical on this play or with this guy.’ It just doesn’t feel right. I’ve just got to stick to my game and just do what I’ve got to do and do it better.” 

Without Edelman, he’s going to be the vocal point for opposing defenses and is going to need to overcome this.

Sunday against the Saints seems like the perfect game for Gronkowski and the Patriots to get back on track. The Saints defense has been in the bottom five in points allowed the past three years, and as it relates to Gronkowski, struggles to cover tight ends.

According to Pro Football Focus, last year the Saints allowed 70 receptions (25th most in the NFL), 844 receiving yards (20th) and five touchdowns (17th) to opposing tight ends.

Not only is it important for the Patriots to have a good game, but especially Gronkowski coming off just two catches for 33 yards against the Chiefs in Week 1. The tight end needs to get into the same category with Brady that Edelman was before his injury.

The Patriots offense can get by with how it performed in Week 1, but in order for the team to be as good as it has been in the past, they need Gronkowski to raise his game without Edelman.

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