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The loss of Rob Gronkowski has been a very well covered topic. And rightly so. He did just about everything for this Patriots offense. Aside from Tom Brady, Gronk made this offense go.

Gronkowski is maybe the Patriots most versatile receiver, dominant in both the middle of the field and also frequent down field target of Tom Brady.

The Patriots will now be without this player on a short week against a division rival. It's not exactly a scenario you'd hope for if you were a Patriots fan.

So, what will the Patriots do with such a void?

Or more specifically, what formation do they run their offense from? If Gronkowski was healthy, the answer would be easy - the two tight end set. However, he's not playing obviously.

With Aaron Hernandez out the Patriots went to more three wide sets but taking that same course of action with Gronk's injury probably wouldn't make sense. The Patriots should stick with a two tight end set.

Here's why.

Hernandez is expected back, but he doesn't replace Gronkowski's role in the offense. He may play the same position, but he's asked to do different things.

Hernandez will still provide a big boost to the receiving game and that will definitely help lighten this blow. If Brady was without both Gronkowski and Hernandez, he'd be down to just one of his go-to targets - Wes Welker. Things could be a lot worse. Still, he's not the blocker Gronk is, he's not the body type Gronk is. He's a completely different player.

So, who are the backups that might fill Gronk's shoes in a two tight end set?

Daniel Fells, Visanthe Shiancoe and Michael Hoomanawanui.

Daniel Fells fits more of the Gronkowski mold as he's a versatile type of tight end that can block and catch. He may be the best blocker of the three. I would say that you can expect Fells playing time to increase, but I'm not sure about that. Fells missed virtually all of training camp with an injury, he came back a few games into the season and had a minimal impact and was a healthy scratch the last game. If Fells does play much, expect him to play the "Gronk" role against the Jets.

Visanthe Shiancoe is more along the lines of an Aaron Hernandez type. He's shown that he can have a lot of production in this league, and I'd expect him to get some more playing time in this game. Especially with Hernandez just returning from injury, they might give Shiancoe some of his snaps. Do not expect him to play Gronkowski though.

I think this was Hoo-Man's
 (sometimes called Uh-Oh)
only catch of the year
Michael Hoomanawanui is someone that for some reason I can just see Belichick giving a bigger role here. He's had some lapses in run blocking and has been playing more of a fullback role. Still, the simple fact that Fells was benched last week makes me think that perhaps Hoo-man has passed him in the pecking order and thus we could see a lot more of him. Perhaps in a similar role that Gronkowski played.

So, now that we've established the personnel at the position. Why should Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels put two of the above on the field most of the time?

Belichick always aims to play to the strengths of what he has on the roster. Previously it was a strength at tight end and thus you saw more two tight end sets. With Hernandez out lately, it's been more three wide receiver sets.

Now that Gronkowski is out, you might think the same thing holds true, that Belichick should trot out Lloyd, Welker and Edelman. Not the case.

If the Patriots leave two tight ends out there, it plays more to Hernandez's strengths.

That would leave Hernandez at his usual flex type position with Fells (hopefully) or Hoo-Man playing the Gronk role. The Pats could even go to their dream three tight set and have Shiancoe out there too. It wouldn't be as much of a nightmare to defenses as having Gronk in there, but if defenses have to worry about Hernandez and Welker and then Shiancoe on top of that, it's still difficult to defend and match up with that.

Hernandez is best utilized out of that set. If they went three wides and had Hernandez as the only tight end, it wouldn't make much sense. The Patriots aren't going to ask Hernandez to suddenly do all the things that Gronk does. It's not his skill set.

You could say that the balance of power has shifted to the wide receivers with Gronkowski being out, but Brandon Lloyd has not done enough to give credence to that statement. Neither has Julian Edelman.

In order for the Patriots offense to best utilize the talent they put out on the field, they need to put Hernandez out there with another tight end. It might not be Gronk, but it might be good enough to beat the Jets.

Mike Saver 11/21/2012 11:06:00 PM Edit
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