In last week’s win over the Bills, Rob Gronkowski lost his cool and went full WWE on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White, earning himself a well-deserved suspension.
White was concussed on the hit and the Patriots should consider themselves lucky that Gronk came away with just a one game suspension. Now they’ll have to prepare to face the Dolphins on Monday Night Football without their best offensive weapon.
Gronkowski has only missed one game this season, a Thursday night showdown against the Buccaneers in Week 5. In that game, the Patriots offense took a more spread approach, using a lot of 3-wide receiver sets and James White (7 catches for 57 yards) was heavily used in the passing game. The Patriots have changed a great deal as a team from where they were in that point of the season. For one, Mike Gillislee led the Patriots in carries that game. Gillislee likely won’t even be active on Monday night.
The Patriots are known to change their gameplan to attack the weaknesses of their opponent, so their run game carries even greater importance this week as they take on the Dolphins’ 21st ranked rush defense. Since Rex Burkhead’s return from injury in Week 7, he and Dion Lewis have taken over the majority of work at running back for the Patriots and Gillislee has been phased out.
To see how the rushing work will pan out on Monday night, look back to the Patriots’ last showdown with the Dolphins two weeks ago in Foxboro. Lewis took his 15 carries for a career-high 112 yards while Burkhead rushed for 50 yards and a touchdown on his 13 carries.
The sledding might be a bit tougher in Miami because Gronk is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, a part of his game that flies under the radar. Where the running backs will have to make up for Gronkowski’s production is in the passing game. James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead totaled 6 targets in Week 12 against Miami and you can expect that number to at least double on Monday night (Gronk had 8 targets in the first game against Miami).
A run-heavy gameplan is likely but it’ll be interesting to see how exactly the backs are deployed in the passing game. You can expect to see White, Burkhead, and Lewis split out wide or in the slot as well as in the backfield to keep Miami’s defense guessing and fill Gronk’s void in the middle of the field with various option, seam, slant, and crossing route combinations, among others.
The Return of Chris Hogan
While Gronk won’t be out there on Monday night, Chris Hogan, one of Brady’s most trusted weapons might be able to make his return from a shoulder injury. Hogan started practicing again this week and is questionable for Monday night’s game.
Chris Hogan hasn't played since Week 8, but he practiced for the first time since he sustained a shoulder injury and he said it felt like "the first day of school." pic.twitter.com/RCkjzQKC5c
— NESN (@NESN) December 6, 2017
Hogan last played in Week 8 so some might have forgotten just how important he was to New England’s offense. Up to that point, his production was nearly identical with that of Brandin Cooks (Hogan: 54 targets, 33 catches, 438 yards and 5 TDs, Cooks through Week 8: 53 targets, 29 catches, 563 yards, and 3 TDs).
Hogan can work out of the slot and rack up yards between the hashmarks and provides Brady with yet another dangerous deep threat on the outside. He’s also a reliable red zone threat, which should help make up for Gronk’s absence in that area of the field. His versatility should cause headaches for Miami’s young secondary.
Obviously Gronk is an important cog in the Patriots offense but if Hogan makes his return on Monday night, his presence, along with the presence of New England’s versatile running backs, should keep this Patriot’s offense humming in Miami.