The New England Patriots lost a heartbreaking matchup with the Arizona Cardinals in Foxborough Sunday, but it was the fact that they are now without star tight end Aaron Hernandez for what appears to be an extended period of time that has experts and fans alike concerned.
NBC Pro Football Talk is reporting about the possible timeframe for Hernandez’s return, and it’s not good news:
Source with knowledge says Pats tight end Aaron Hernandez could miss up to six weeks with ankle injury.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) September 16, 2012
With fantasy football owners and Patriots fans everywhere losing their cool at this moment, it’s time to assess which current Patriots will benefit most from Hernandez’s time on the bench.
As much as the impact of Hernandez’s injury will change the way the Patriots handle their passing attack, it will alter the entire offensive mindset each week and force New England back to a more-balanced scheme.
That means more rushes from Stevan Ridley and even more catches out of the backfield for the second-year back out of LSU. With 196 yards on the ground through two games, Ridley is ready for a workload increase.
New England has been making a conscientious effort to get the ball to their incredible tight end duo of Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, but the opposition’s focus on Gronk until Hernandez comes back will open the middle of the field for Ridley.
The biggest loser of the offseason in the New England offense has been Wes Welker. With the veteran likely leaving the team at the end of the season as a free agent, Welker was not a big part of the of the Patriots' offensive plan.
The plans have changed.
While Julian Edelman has slowly started to take many of Welker’s reps, the Patriots will have to revert back to their old-style offense with one featured tight end. That means much more looking to the slot and Welker for Tom Brady.
Welker has proven over his career that he is far from a third option on every play and can be a difference maker when given the chance. With Hernandez on the mend, Brady will lean on his most consistent target.
There is little doubt that Rob Gronkowski has already been Tom Brady’s No. 1 target over the last year, but the loss of his other tight end will force the veteran QB to put it in Gronk’s hands even more.
While the injury to Hernandez will inevitably force teams to cover Gronkowski with even more defenders, the 6’6” ball-snatching behemoth has the ability to beat any coverage in the league.
One aspect of his game that will also have to improve is Gronkowski’s ability to be a believable decoy. Defensive units will be honing in on the young star, and he has to be able to utilize that attention to help get other receivers open.
Hernandez’s injury isn’t good for anybody on the team, but Gronkowski’s numbers are sure to skyrocket now that he is on an island by himself.
Check back for more on the National Football League as it comes, and don’t miss Bleacher Report’s NFL page to get your fill of all things football.