It is several days out from Super Bowl 52 and there is still no official word on Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski. The Super Bowl betting odds have yet to change in terms of the Pats being favored, meaning that most analysts predict that New England can still within without their leading receiver. How could this be? Let’s explore the Pats offensive depth and possible strategy against the Philadelphia Eagles in light of Gronk’s absence.
There is no denying Brady’s reliance on Gronkowski throughout the regular season. Gronk leads receivers on all fronts, including receptions (69), targets (106), yards (1,084), average yards per reception (15.7) and touchdowns (8). He was utilized in the Pats Divisional Round game against the Tennessee Titans and would’ve been the #1 receiver in the AFC Championship if not for a concussion late in the first half. After Gronk went out, the Patriots struggled offensively since the Jags’ secondary no longer had to worry about the big TE making plays.
In terms of receiving, Brady will look for WRs Danny Amendola, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett. Cooks was the #2 target under Gronk in the regular season and had 65 receptions for 1,082 yards. With 7 touchdowns, his stats fall right under Gronkowski’s. New England acquired Cooks from the New Orleans Saints and the move has proved fortuitous for the defending champions, especially with WR Julian Edelman’s absence. Amendola has stepped up in the Playoffs and helped the Patriots mount a comeback against the Jags in the AFC Championship. He also leads al receivers with 196 yards and 2 touchdowns. Since the Patriots haven’t enjoyed much success running the ball this postseason (except for in the red zone), expect most of the offense to revolve around the pass game.
Speaking of running the ball, we may see more of it if Gronk is out during Super Bowl 52. RBs Dion Lewis, James White and Brandon Bolden have been the 3-pronged running force this postseason. Lewis has carried the ball the most, but White has been the go-to guy for scoring touchdowns. The Eagles have a stout defense, though OC Josh McDaniels will likely try to integrate the run game from the beginning. If they can’t run the ball, the bulk offensive workload will fall to the receivers.
In the TE slot, New England has Dwayne Allen, Martellus Bennett and Jacob Hollister. Whereas Gronk will run out into the backfield, these tight ends tend to be more standardized and will stay close to Brady. This means short completions, but this is not always a bad thing. Hollister is the only 1 with a catch this postseason. This creates an opportunity for any of these 3 to step up and make a difference.
There is still a chance for Gronkowski to play if he is cleared by an independent neurologist. No official word has been released yet from the Patriots or Gronk’s camp. As most legal Super Bowl betting sites report, the Pats are still favored. Gronk or no Gronk, New England still has Tom Brady and enough depth to split the workload. The Eagles defense would certainly catch a break without him on the field, but there are other weapons to look out for.