Hannable: Patriots offense could be more run-heavy post Rob Gronkowski

Ryan Hannable
March 25, 2019 - 11:26 pm

No one player will ever be able to replace Rob Gronkowski.

And it’s likely not even a collection of players at the moment will be able to make up for his loss. 

The first wave of free agency has come and gone so there aren’t many worthy pass-catchers available, the trade market looks bleak, and it’s hard to rely on rookies, so the Patriots could ultimately be forced into changing their offense for 2019.

As of now, here are the current pass-catchers both at wide receiver and tight end: Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Braxton Berrios, Maurice Harris, Bruce Ellington, Matthew Slater, Damoun Patterson, Jacob Hollister, Stephen Anderson, Ryan Izzo and Matt LaCosse.

Not good. Not good at all.

And even with another name or two being added, it’s still likely not one of the better passing attacks in the league, despite having Tom Brady at quarterback .

So, what will come of the Patriots offense? Perhaps, a switch to being more focused on the run.

Right now, combined with the offensive line, that is the strength of the offense and it demonstrated in the postseason it can be very successful.

In the three playoff games, the Patriots ran for 1,429 yards, an average of 161.7 yards per game, which were almost 20 more than any other playoff team. Individually, Sony Michel was outstanding as he ran for 336 total yards and six touchdowns.

It can be argued the Patriots' running game was the biggest reason why the team was able to beat the Chargers in the divisional round, the Chiefs in the AFC title game and then Rams in Super Bowl LIII.

The entire Patriots backfield from 2018 will return with Michel, James White and Rex Burkhead, along with old friend Brandon Bolden following re-signing earlier this month. The team likely will add another player or two as well by the time training camp rolls around.

Given what has transpired this offseason, it only makes sense to lean heavily on the running backs and offensive line. Brady turning 42 before the season begins should also be factored in, as it’s a big risk putting the entire success of the offense on Brady’s shoulders with the current assortment of pass catchers.

The days of Brady being able to win with below average talent appears to be a thing of the past, and that’s not a knock against him, either. It's just what it is.

Another developing big picture theory is having a very good rushing attack could be the key to having success on offense. With the game changing so much in recent years, defenses have also changed with smaller, quicker linebackers and more emphasis being put on the secondary. The weak spot with defenses may now be at the middle linebacker position when it comes to defending the run. The Patriots could potentially be ahead of the curve once again by building a strong offensive line and investing into the running back position.

After all, according to Spotrac, the Patriots devote the third-most money in the league to the running back position.

Relating to Gronkowski, it’s easier to replace him as a blocker than a receiver especially given what is currently available, which only adds to the thought of the unit becoming more run-first. It’s also worth pointing out Izzo and LaCosse are more known for their blocking.

The timing of Gronkowski’s retirement announcement doesn’t give much time for reflection. Instead, it’s quickly shifted to how he will be replaced, and the answer may be a change to the offensive philosophy.

It’s ground and pound time.

Related: Tom Brady, Patriots reportedly currently not discussing new deal

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