BOSTON (CBS) — If Rob Gronkowski’s one-game suspension is upheld, it will leave a giant hole on the New England depth chart next Monday night in Miami.
There really is no replacing what Gronkowski brings to the field, but if we’ve learned anything about the Patriots over the last few years it’s that they can win without their hulking tight end. New England is 20-5 in regular season games without Gronkowski, including a 7-0 stretch to end last season. They’re 4-2 without Gronkowski in the playoffs, thanks to three postseason wins they notched last season on their way to a Super Bowl LI victory.
Not having that gigantic target running routes certainly won’t make next Monday night’s tilt in Miami any easier, but it won’t be the Patriots’ first Gronk-less game down in Florida this season. He was a late scratch for Week 5’s Thursday Night Football matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a 19-14 win by the Patriots. Brady threw to seven different players that game, completing passes to five of them. Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan both caught eight passes during the contest, with Hogan targeted 11 times by his quarterback. Brandin Cooks had five receptions off eight targets, with running back James White (seven receptions off nine targets) and Dion Lewis (two catches) also getting involved in the passing game. Brady missed on his lone targets to tight end Jacob Hollister and fullback James Develin that evening.
So Brady is going to spread the ball around if he is without Gronkowski next Monday, which is nothing new for the Patriots quarterback. But it’s a player who didn’t see a pass down in Tampa who could be looking at a bigger role next week in Miami.
Tight end Dwayne Allen has just five receptions on the season, and all of them have come in the last month. While he’s focused on his work as a blocker, earning praise from his coaches and teammates, Allen could be primed for a bigger role in the passing game next Monday should Gronk be forced to serve his one-game ban.
He’s hot right now too, catching five of the seven passes that have gone his way following New England’s Week 9 bye, good for 40 yards and a touchdown.
“Dwayne’s had a very solid role for us all year long. He’s played a lot of football, and I’m sure he’ll continue to play a lot of football for us,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said of Allen on his Monday morning conference call, prior to the Gronk suspension being announced. “Dwayne works hard. He does what we ask him to do. He tries his best to do it the way that we ask him to do it. Some things are different than the way he was taught to do them in the past, but he’s been very open and receptive to trying to do what the team needs him to do on any particular play or situation or technique or whatever it happens to be.
“He’s been a great guy to have on the team,” Belichick continued. “He’s got a great attitude, he’s willing to do anything that we’ve asked him to do to help the football team, and you can’t ask for any more than that.”
Given the issues the Patriots had with the Dolphins pass rush a few weeks ago, they may employ a more run-heavy game plan in Miami. But even though he’s been strong as a blocker, opening up numerous holes for New England’s running backs, the Pats may have no other option but to ask Allen to run some routes on Monday night. Hogan missed his fourth straight game with a bad shoulder last weekend and there’s no guarantee he’ll return against the Dolphins, so that could leave Brady without two reliable targets in Miami, a place that has haunted him in the past.
Chances are the Patriots won’t miss Gronkowski too much against the Dolphins, because the Dolphins just aren’t a very good football team this year. But Gronk’s giant absence will leave a void that has to be filled, and there’s a good chance it’s Allen who is asked to step up and contribute in the passing game.