Patriots vs. Jets: How Will Rob Gronkowski's Absence Affect New England?

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Patriots vs. Jets: How Will Rob Gronkowski's Absence Affect New England?
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
As Gronkowski turns, Brady dials him up. But we won't see that on Thanksgiving night.

The New England Patriots will be without Rob Gronkowski against the New York Jets in Week 12.

Per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:

On the bright side, New England possesses such depth and talent across the offensive spectrum that Gronk's absence won't be too immense of a factor.

The New York Jets are still suspect in certain areas defensively, so as long as Tom Brady remains under center, the Pats will move the rock. Here, we look at how New England will survive the short week without one of Brady's favorite targets.

 

Utilize Ground Attack a Bit More

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New England must hit the Jets hard between the tackles—period. Gang Green ranks 30th against the run, allowing 142 yards per game on the ground. In addition, the Jets give up 4.4 yards per carry.

New England's rushing attack often goes overlooked. Ranked fifth in rushing offense, the Pats run for an average of 143 yards a week with a 4.3 per carry average. Factor in the short week disadvantage for each team, and the simplest of game plans is to slam the rock early.

New York's vulnerability against the run will immediately get exposed as well, because the Jets cannot afford to stack the box. For one, Brady will recognize anything the Jets give away pre-snap. Also, if Gang Green loads the box, then their coverage is vulnerable to New England's aerial assault.

In short, Rex Ryan's defense is in a tough bind because of its inability to stop the run. New England will control the line of scrimmage and then set Brady up in the pocket.


Brady's Other Targets

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Excluding Gronkowski, receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd are Brady's best and most consistent targets. Both are listed as questionable for Thursday's game, though, according to the Patriots' official website.

Welker leads New England in yards (890), targets (105) and receptions (73), whereas Lloyd is second on the Pats in targets (82) and receiving touchdowns (three). Both are reliable at consistently defeating man coverage and performing routes anywhere on the field.

But New York cannot afford to double cover either, as that will create fewer defenders to stop the run.

Interestingly enough, running back Danny Woodhead has been Brady's favorite ball-carrier in the receiving game. Heading into Week 12, he's caught 23 passes for 246 yards and has 186 yards after the catch. In targeting him for screens and draws, New York doubling Welker and/or Lloyd leaves itself at a disadvantage regarding numbers in the box.

We know Brady will stretch and widen the field to keep the Jets honest, so it's simply a matter of what New York presents to determine the distribution.

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What to Expect From the Jets

The Jets have to blitz early and often while showing a nickel/dime package in most situations.

One good thing about New England running more is a slightly slower game pace. New York can adjust to that offensively, so the Pats must anticipate accordingly. With New York needing to attack Brady and isolate Welker, look for more Cover 2 regardless of the down and distance.

This coverage could restrict Welker from getting open at the underneath intermediate level and constantly allow for a sitting cornerback on the outside. In other words, a bracketed zone scheme to blanket Welker will likely leave Lloyd in numerous man coverage situations.

New York has to mix up between zone and man coverage on different sides of the field. Otherwise, predictability will set in. Also, Gang Green has to blitz up the middle and force Brady to make longer outside throws or go deep over the middle.

In terms of how long it takes for plays to develop, that is to the Jets' advantage, because they're better in coverage than against the run. Therefore, to counteract New York is a stronger running game from New England.

It will be a more traditional approach of running to set up the pass, because exploiting the Jets' front seven weakness keeps the Pats offense on the field. After all, we know Gang Green's offense will have trouble scoring since that has been the case all season.


 

Follow John Rozum on Twitter.

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