Hannable: The real truth about Rob Gronkowski's performance vs. Dolphins

Ryan Hannable
December 11, 2018 - 11:11 pm

Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports

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Man, did Sunday’s narrative change because of the final play of the game.

Before Kenyan Drake’s game-winning 69-yard touchdown on several laterals with no time left on the clock where he dusted Rob Gronkowski near the end zone, the story of the game was Gronkowski’s resurgence on offense.

Gronkowski finished with a season-high eight catches on eight targets for 107 yards and a touchdown. But, because of the final play that was what everyone was talking about. 

Given his struggles for much of the year, it certainly was nice to see him contributing.

"I felt good out there, definitely," Gronkowski said. "I'm making plays, blocking, getting some chemistry built back up. I wish we could have put up more points in the red zone, but as a unit we were playing well, moving the ball, and we've just got to continue that positive streak going of moving the ball on the offensive side."

Because of his numbers — the most catches he’s had in a single game this year and just his second 100-yard performance — many have said the tight end is back to the player we are used to seeing.

"I'm so proud of him," Tom Brady said on Mut and Callahan. "He caught the ball last week against Minnesota and took a pretty good hit and worked through that. Then had a great game [against Miami]."

While the numbers alone look like he’s back to vintage Gronk, re-watching the game and analyzing how he got open show he’s still not quite back to his All-Pro form. His increase in production was more about the poor Miami defense and gameplan than anything he did.

Of his eight receptions, six of them had the Dolphins playing zone and then the other two saw Miami try and cover him 1-on-1 with linebackers.

If teams don’t pay extra attention to him, he can use his tremendous hands and smarts to produce, but he’s not the game-changer we saw say last year in the final two minutes against the Steelers in Week 15.

The tape against the Dolphins showed he’s still lacking the explosiveness off the ball of the past, and he also doesn’t seem to be as strong as he once was when he could carry defenders a few extra yards before going down.

If defenses play him like the Dolphins did, he’s still smart enough to find the soft spots in the zone and can use his 6-foot-7 body and great hands to beat average linebackers in coverage. But, he’s certainly not the same player that recorded 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago.

It will be interesting to see how the Steelers play him this week, as they haven’t had any success against him in the past. 

In six career games against them, he has 39 receptions for 664 yards and eight touchdowns. His 110.6 yards per game are his highest average versus any team he's opposed more than once and the eight touchdowns are his most against any non-AFC East team.

Based on what we’ve seen, if Pittsburgh double teams him and chips him coming off the line of scrimmage, they can keep the tight end in check. But, if they employ the same game plan as the Dolphins, it could be another monster day for the big fella.

Bottom line, don’t race to the printer to make the ‘Gronk is back’ t-shirts, but don’t make the ‘Gronk is dead’ ones, either.

Related: Josh McDaniels: Rob Gronkowski is one of tougher tight ends in NFL

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