The New England Patriots as a team will miss star tight end Rob Gronkowski, lost for the season after suffering a serious knee injury during Sunday's win against the Cleveland Browns. But the team has had to adjust to life without Gronkowski before. Part of that void lays on the creative shoulder of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. According to Boston.com on December 10, the team has been in this position before and as recent as the beginning of the season.
On a team that has already lost some of their key players for the season, the last thing the Patriots could afford was to lose Gronkowski who added a dynamic and explosive element to the offense and gave quarterback Tom Brady a big target to throw to. Gronkowski's presence also provided McDaniels with a more flexible and creative playbook. Now with the loss of the big tight end, other players will have to step up and McDaniels will have to create plays that will put them in position to contribute. It is a situation the team has experienced before. McDaniels said during the Patriots' weekly coaches teleconference:
"We've experienced playing without him before. I don't know if we're better equipped, I'm not exactly sure how to rate that. I just know that any time you lose a player like that or you can't use a player like that, you need to put your time into a few different things, and other people have to play different roles."
Those players include receivers Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, Kembrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. As chemistry between the group of receivers and Brady was off during the beginning of the season, hopefully with more games under their belt as well as experience, that chemistry will be there. The team may have to depend more on their running game. McDaniels continued:
"You play offense a little differently, and we do have experience doing that. We did it at the beginning of this year for a significant number of weeks, we did it in the offseason, we did it last year during the course of the season as well, so we've experienced this before."
What the offense and Josh McDaniels may have at their advantage is the versatility of running back Shane Vereen , a player who is capable of stretching the field but in the screen game and down the field. Vereen was big in the comeback win against the Browns, leading the team with over 150 receiving yards. Another player who can play a key role in the offense is fullback James Devlin who can catch the ball out of the backfield and has proven to be a player who is tough to get down. The greatest weapon for Tom Brady will just be trust. If he trusts his receivers and they are where they need to be, the Patriots offense can still be explosive.
The plays will definitely be there without Gronkowski. But defenses will present a more difficult challenge for the offense because defenses no longer have to worry about the dynamic mismatch he presents. According to McDaniels:
"When he's not in there, then certainly they may be more inclined to do more of the things that they're used to doing, and they don't necessarily need to account for a player at that position to be such an incredible challenge as you presented."