By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots will be without the suspended Rob Gronkowski when they take on the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, leaving a giant void in their offense.
But it’s a void the Patriots should be able to survive for one week.
Gronk’s post-whistle dumbassery will cost him a game and likely a few million dollars in incentives, but it probably won’t hurt the New England offense too much against the Dolphins. Miami has had its share of issues against tight ends this season and Gronkowski found the end zone twice in their Week 12 matchup at Gillette Stadium. But there’s another area the Pats should be able to exploit down in Miami, much like they did two weeks ago.
Dwayne Allen and Jacob Hollister should both see an uptick in playing time, but that doesn’t mean the duo of tight ends will see the 10 or so passes that usually head Gronkowski’s way. Hollister has just three receptions on six targets in his limited playing time. Allen has all five of his receptions this season over the last month, but is a much bigger piece to the puzzle as a blocker along the line, opening holes for New England backs. That will likely continue to be the case this weekend.
While Tom Brady’s aerial attack is usually the name of the game for the Patriots offense, their ground attack should take the lead on Monday night. Patriots running backs ran wild against the Dolphins two weeks ago with Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead rushing for 162 yards. The duo, led by Lewis’ 112 yards on the ground, picked up 5.8 yards per carry. Burkhead scored twice that afternoon, once on the ground and the other time on a short pass from Brady. He has four touchdowns in the last two weeks.
The Patriots rush attack has put together back-to-back impressive weeks, following up their track meet against Miami with 191 yards last week in Buffalo. They could be in for a third straight monster game against a Miami team that is vulnerable on the ground, surrendering an average of 116.5 rushing yards per game. We could even see Mike Gillislee active for the first time in over a month, giving the Patriots another body to take it up the gut a few times.
Without Gronk and his giant mitts gashing the Miami secondary over the middle, it would be wise for the Patriots to focus on the ground. His absence leaves them with one less blocker to protect Brady from a Miami pass rush that isn’t all that impressive, but still hit the QB eight times in their last meeting. Brady may still be feeling a crushing blow that Ndamukong Suh delivered in that game, and he certainly doesn’t need another one of those with the Pittsburgh Steelers up next on a short week.
Brady won’t be without his options in the passing game. He’ll still have Brandin Cooks and Danny Amendola, and it’s possible that Chris Hogan could return for the first time since late October, giving Brady another reliable option to haul in passes that would otherwise go to Gronkowski. The Pats have been able to get by without Gronk over the years, as evident by their 20-5 record without him during regular season play. It’s not easy, but it certainly isn’t insurmountable.
But as we saw a few weeks ago, the Dolphins are making it a point to hit Brady as hard as they can and as often as possible. With one less option in the passing game and a talented blocker on the line, mixed with Miami’s struggle against the New England run game two weeks ago, it would probably be in Brady’s best interest to make a few extra handoffs to Lewis and Burkhead on Monday night.