Dec 8, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87), accompanied by Dr. Thomas Gill, is carted off the field after being injured during the third quarter of New England
Replacing Rob Gronkowski is not only hard to do, but it is just about impossible. The big tight end is an impossible cover for pretty much ever defender in the National Football League, which makes this New England Patriots offense extremely difficult to stop. As you probably know by now, Gronk tore his ACL and MCL in last weeks’ win over the Browns, and it has ended his 2013 campaign. This is a horrible break for the decimated Patriots, but they have to move on, and try to make a deep playoff run without number 87.
Even without Gronkowski causing mismatches all over the field, this New England offense still possesses the talent to move the football, and continue to be productive come playoff time. Rookie wideouts Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are both currently dealing with injuries, but as soon as they step back onto the field, I guarantee that they will make a positive impact for the team. They haven’t been Randy Moss, but their outside presence has opened up the middle of the field for New England, which is something that they have not had since the days of Moss in 2007. In the meantime, it appears that fellow rookie Josh Boyce has slid into the offense quite nicely, showing us why the Patriots drafted him, after he performed well last week against Cleveland. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola both can be monsters in the middle, given that they are extremely tough to cover in man to man situations. Edelman’s ability to make people miss in the open-field is very impressive, and because he is the “veteran” receiver on the team, Brady trusts him the most at this point in the season. This was on full display last week in the final minute of their win over the Browns, as despite having Amendola wide open in the end zone, Brady decided to thread the needle to a less open Edelman. As long as they keep making positives plays, I really have no problem with this, but the minute that Brady realizes he has Amendola just as open as Edelman, this offense could perform quite well while Gronkowski is out.
Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount both ran the ball hard last week, and this will serve the Pats well in the playoffs, as Brady and Belichick know all too well that you must run the ball effectively, if you want to win a Super Bowl. Ridley is definitely the most talented back New England has, but because he is a fumble prone guy, Blount has been forced to carry the ball a lot this season, which has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the Patriots. Blount and Ridley running the football is a formidable one-two punch, and they should continue their stellar year over the final month of the season.
All of these things point towards the Pats moving the ball well against the Dolphins (and whoever they may face in the playoffs), but the biggest problem this offense presents to opposing defenses, is running back Shane Vereen.
Dec 8, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back Shane Vereen (34) runs for yards after a catch against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Browns 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
In the three games since returning from an opening day wrist injury, Vereen has caught 33 balls for 315 yards, and a touchdown. As we saw last week, Vereen can split out wide, beating linebackers downfield and making tough catches, despite breaking his wrist three months ago. He is also an incredibly tough guy to bring down after the catch, as he uses his shiftiness and explosion to gain a lot of yards after catching the football. No linebacker in the NFL can cover this guy in pass coverage, and Tom Brady loves going to him when Vereen has single coverage. I expect Vereen to put on a show this week in Miami, and another 100 yard performance is not out of the question.