HomecolumnVintage Gronk Changes AFC Picture

Vintage Gronk Changes AFC Picture

The true test of this narrative will come when both Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas seek contracts that reflect their outstanding performances beyond their initial rookie deals.

It’s a savvy insight that both won’t command top-of-market deals without some necessary adjustments to how funds are distributed across other pass-catching positions on the current roster.

Essentially, investing in a top-of-market tight end like Julius Thomas (akin to the Patriots’ commitment to Rob Gronkowski) while also accommodating a potential top-of-market wide receiver salary for Demaryius Thomas will inevitably require making budget-conscious choices for several other positions.

This principle isn’t exclusive to the Patriots; it’s a challenge faced by every team in the league.

It’s crucial to bear in mind that the Patriots have a long and well-documented history of actively striving to bolster their offensive arsenal around Tom Brady.

While they’re subject to scrutiny regarding their effectiveness in doing so, the notion that they don’t actively seek to improve their offensive weaponry is simply a misconception or a lack of awareness.

A glance back at past moves reinforces their dedication to this mission. The addition of Chad Ochocinco in 2011 generated excitement, even though it ultimately didn’t pan out as expected.

In 2012, they brought in Brandon Lloyd, a move akin to the role Emmanuel Sanders played for the Patriots’ offense alongside established stars like Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker.

The 2013 signing of Danny Amendola represents another instance where they pursued one of the most coveted free-agent wide receivers.

Furthermore, their investment in the second round of the draft last year, selecting a big-bodied pass-catcher in Aaron Dobson, underscores their commitment to improving their offensive weaponry, with Dobson drafted at a higher position than either Julius Thomas or Eric Decker were chosen by the Broncos.

AP Image. New England tight end Rob Gronkowski drags a Chicago defender into the end zone for a touchdown.
AP Image. New England tight end Rob Gronkowski drags a Chicago defender into the end zone for a touchdown.

Dealing with a player like Rob Gronkowski can be an exercise in defensive frustration. You can’t replicate his unique physical attributes in practice.

You can’t simulate his towering height and exceptional length when it comes to catching passes. It often feels like repeatedly bashing your head against a wall with little progress.

To counter Gronk’s impact, defensive strategies must adapt.

This can involve various adjustments, such as double-teaming him down the field, positioning the double-team closer to the line of scrimmage to dissuade Tom Brady from targeting him before the snap or employing defensive ends to disrupt him at the line, preventing him from getting where he needs to be in the passing progression.

However, none of these solutions is perfect, as they typically require reallocating a player from their coverage responsibilities, effectively thinning other areas of the secondary.

Screen capture
Screen capture

What adds to the intrigue of this Patriots/Broncos matchup is that the Broncos have two defensive players, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who demand similar scheme adjustments as Gronk, but on the defensive side of the ball.

Ware and Miller are equally formidable when it comes to their roles, often requiring extra attention just as Gronk does when he’s single-covered.

AP Image. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have terrorized quarterbacks when left in 1-on-1 blocking situations.
AP Image. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have terrorized quarterbacks when left in 1-on-1 blocking situations.

This is where it gets interesting.

In the accompanying image, you can see how other teams have tackled a similar challenge. The upper section illustrates the Patriots’ strategy for mitigating edge rushers and aiding their tackles in pass protection.

In this approach, both Rob Gronkowski and Shane Vereen are aligned in a ‘hip’ relationship with the offensive tackles.

This forces defensive ends to take a tighter path, which makes it more manageable for the offensive tackles to handle talented edge rushers.

Essentially, it’s a clever form of a double team that still allows Gronk and Vereen to impact protection while remaining active in their routes to catch passes.

San Diego takes a slightly different route, keeping their running back in the shotgun formation to maintain a run threat.

They also opt for a chip on Von Miller from the running back. Antonio Gates, on the other hand, takes an aggressive angle in his route toward the defensive end, preventing the rush from veering too far upfield and posing a speed threat to the left tackle.

This combination of strategies showcases how teams adapt to address similar challenges in their matchups.

This dynamic has two sides as well. While the Patriots can effectively execute this strategy within their scheme, the threat of Von Miller or DeMarcus Ware reaching the quarterback increases significantly if Gronk is taken out of the formation or Vereen’s role is altered.

Any scenario with single blocks on the edges favors the Broncos, whereas situations where the edges are contained and the routes remain uninterrupted benefit the Patriots.

This strategic chess match within the game is one that wouldn’t have posed a real threat to the Pats without Gronk’s rapid development.

The Denver Broncos considered the presumptive best team in the AFC, possess their own virtually unstoppable forces. However, the emergence of the Patriots’ own matchup nightmare may level the playing field.

Whenever Denver faces New England, it’s a contest filled with intrigue and holds great significance in the AFC race.

The triumphant return of the best tight end in football has made this matchup even more enticing and significant.

Pranaya Poudel
Pranaya Poudel
Pranaya Poudel's passion for American Football knows no bounds. Whether it's the electrifying atmosphere of college football games or the raw intensity of high school matchups, he seizes every opportunity to revel in the sport. Currently, his heart beats in sync with the Cincinnati Bengals, with a deep admiration for, Joe Burrow.


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