Losing Rob Gronkowski for two months, for any other team, would be catastrophic. But the New England Patriots, well, they might be okay.
“He’s a bonafide superstar. I think everyone would agree with that,” Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Anytime you lose a guy like that, there’s going to be a factor there. They are built to survive this, though. They’ve been a lot more of a three-wide receiver offense this season than I think some people expected. The plan was to have Gronkowski and (Martellus) Bennett be the foundation of the offense, go two-tight end personnel. They’ve been good with that, but those guys haven’t been in the lineup consistently, mainly Gronkowski. They’ve got guys at wide receiver. It’s the way they use them. They get the match-ups they want by the formations they use.”
Having Dion Lewis back helps, too. The dynamic tailback missed the first nine games of the season while recovering from knee surgery but figures to assume a bigger role as the season progresses.
“He is a difference-maker because of where you can line him up and the passing-game mismatches that you can dictate with him,” Benoit said. “So the value of Gronkowski and Bennett together is that you can dictate match-ups just by where you align those guys. They still have that element. It’s not as dynamic now, but they still have it with Lewis back and Bennett there. So I think it’s going to be business as usual in New England. They won’t be as dangerous as they were, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be as effective as they’ve been.”
Bennett, meanwhile, will become the No. 1 tight end. He’s been remarkably effective at times – he has three 100-yard games this season – but he hasn’t scored since Week 5.
Will Bennett benefit the most in Gronk’s absence?
“Really, there’s such a week-to-week case in New England with that because it really depends on the opponent,” Benoit said. “For example, if they’re facing a zone-based defense, then a lot of times it’s the wide receivers that are going to be the beneficiary because they put their wide receivers inside, and when you have a zone defense, it usually means the wide receivers get matched against linebackers. If they face a man-to-man defense, then Bennett probably does become the beneficiary because he’ll be on a safety or even a linebacker in some case, and there aren’t a lot of guys at those positions in the league who can cover him. That’s what the Patriots do so well: they identify those match-ups and they exploit him. So there will be weeks where Bennett will be targeted 12 times and have eight catches and 110 yards. There will be other weeks where he might be targeted four or five times and it’s going to be (Julian) Edelman and (Kevin) Hogan getting the touches.”
The Patriots (9-2) host the Rams (4-7) this Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.