Rob Gronkowski: Players Who Must Step Up Against Texans to Fill TE's Void

Richard LangfordCorrespondent IDecember 10, 2012

FOXBORO, MA - NOVEMBER 18: Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots attempts to run through a tackle after catching a pass against the Indianapolis Colts during the game on November 18, 2012 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Without stud tight end Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots are going to need multiple players to step up against the Houston Texans in their key AFC battle on Monday Night Football. 

Gronkowski brings so many things to the table that the Patriots have no one player who can fill the void he has left behind. 

The Patriots are 2-0 since Gronk was lost with a broken arm, but the victories have come against the Jets and Dolphins. The Texans pose a much greater threat. 

Still, the Patriots can persevere through this injury if this next group of players step up. 


Aaron Hernandez

This is the logical place for the Patriots to turn. Hernandez is a supremely competent pass-catching tight end, and he proved this last week against the Dolphins by hauling in eight catches for 97 yards. 

Hernandez can run all the routes Gronk can, and he can do it effectively. The Patriots will need him to be at his best in this contest. 

Still, he doesn't bring the blocking that Gronk does, and the Texans defense will be able to key on Hernandez and Wes Welker on third downs and in the red zone, which will limit the contributions he can make.

That's why the rest of the guys on this list must step up, too. 


Brandon Lloyd

The Patriots need a third threat to step up in the passing game to beat the Texans. As we just mentioned, in key areas of the game, the Texans will likely center their defensive game plan on Welker and Hernandez. 

This should leave Brandon Lloyd able to find some holes and produce. Lloyd is listed as questionable on the official injury report, but he has been for several weeks and has been able to play through it. 

Last week, he had just one catch on one target. The Patriots will need far more out of him this week. 

Lloyd has to find a way to make some key grabs on third down and/or in the red zone for the Patriots offense to control this game. 


The Offensive Line

The Patriots have to figure out how to slow down J.J. Watt without the excellent blocking services of Gronkowski.

The Patriots offensive line needs to make up for this as a whole. Each player needs to win his one-on-one matchups, and the group as a whole can't suffer any missed assignments.

To this end, the Pats' line has been doing a nice job of protecting Brady and it has not suffered with Gronk's absence.

For the season, the Patriots are fourth in the league with a 3.9 sacked percentage, and that has actually improved over the last three games as New England registers a 3.8 sacked percentage in that span. 

If New England can give Brady time to throw, it will make everyone else's job that much easier.