Why New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski Won't Be Able to Match 2011 Performance
Gronkowski followed his eye-opening rookie season with a record-breaking 2011, all the while looking like an unrelenting force on the field.
He's faster than anyone big enough to stop him and bigger than anyone fast enough to keep up with him. He's a massive target for Brady, and anything that hits his hands stays there.
So Gronkowski is going to produce. Book it.
But if you're looking for an encore performance, tread carefully. It's not going to happen.
Gronk will put up Pro Bowl-caliber numbers, but don't expect him to flirt with the record books again. There are several reasons why the stats will dip. Here are a few.
They Were Records for a Reason
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There's a reason athletes who break records don't continue to set new records year after year.
Records are just that for a reason. They show the best performances anyone's been able to have.
Before last year, no one at the tight end position for over 30 years had done better than Kellen Winslow's 1,290 receiving yards in 1980. To think that those numbers will continue to be reached annually is a stretch.
Gronkowski will find it tough to pass his records from last year for the same reason Drew Brees will find it hard to equal his passing yards from last year.
To a degree, water seeks its level. Gronkowski will again be at or near the top of the league in tight end receiving numbers, but last year was an explosion. As time goes on, it'll be remembered as such.
More Depth Among Brady's Targets
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For all of the yards that the Patriots racked up last year, they had a clear soft spot at the receiver position. Wes Welker was, and is, an elite presence inside, but on the outside, an aging Deion Branch was New England's best bet to work the sidelines.
Gronkowski down the middle became the go-to plan of attack for Brady last year, largely because of Gronk's talent, but also in part due to necessity.
The lack of explosiveness at the receiver position obviously bugged Bill Belichick last year. The Patriots added a big-play option in Brandon Lloyd and beefed up the supporting cast with the additions of Jabar Gaffney and Donte' Stallworth.
In one offseason, the Patriots went from having a mediocre receiving corps to one of the league's best. Expect that to eat into Gronkowski's numbers. He'll be the top option, but there will just be more people for Brady to look for in the pocket.
Defenses Are Wiser
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As was highlighted in the first slide, record-breaking performances often go unanswered the following season.
One reason? Opponents catch on.
Entering 2010, Gronkowski was a rookie with a history of back problems. In 2011, he was an impressive rising star who could hurt you in the red zone.
Now, he's a full-fledged star. He's the best receiving option in arguably the league's best offense. Teams open their first defensive meeting of the week and close the last one with the same question:
"How are we going to stop 87?"
Week in and out, Gronkowski will face defenses drawn up to take his strengths away. There will be bumps at the line, man coverage, safeties over the top. Anything to try to force Brady to look away from his All-Pro tight end.
How successful the defenses will be remains to be seen. But increased attention on Gronkowski will boost the stats of his teammates, even if it lowers his.
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For a pass-happy offense, Josh McDaniels is a perfect fit as its coordinator.
For a tight end-based attack? That's a stranger mix.
McDaniels probably won't break what isn't broken, but his record speaks for itself. All of the success he's had has come with spread, wideout-based offenses. The tight end has been a secondary position in his systems, while the quarterback-to-wide receiver connection has blossomed.
With McDaniels being handed three of the receivers from his record-setting 2007 offense and another who led the league in receiving yards under his watch, he'll have wideout talent better than what he's worked with in the past.
Times have changed in New England. Tight ends are what make the offense go now, but Belichick and McDaniels clearly want the wide receiver position to be a strength for this team again. The play-calling will reflect that desire.
And that'll make 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns even harder to reach.