My mother always told me that good things come to those who wait.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Gronkowski has been targeted 32 times since returning in Week 7 against the New York Jets. Gronkowski has caught 19 of those passes and racked up 284 yards during his three games since returning from his back and forearm injuries.
By contrast, the other tight ends who have played for New England this year—Michael Hoomanawanui, Matthew Mulligan and Zach Sudfeld—have only accounted for 15 targets combined.
Opposing defenses are going to have to start keying in on Gronkowski again, or they will have to get used to seeing him tear up chunks of yardage down the middle of the field. One way defensive coordinators could try to attack Gronkowski is by controlling his release from the line of scrimmage.
Here are a couple of plays from the Patriots' 55-31 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers that illustrate how important it is to get a good jam on Gronkowski.
The Patriots are in 13 personnel, with all three tight ends lined up on the left side. Gronkowski is on the far left of the formation. Stevan Ridley is the lone running back. The Patriots are certainly showing run here. The Steelers have eight players in the box and another player on the outskirts. They are gearing up to stop the run.
Gronkowski gets a clean release and is off to the races. He has the cornerback on his heels without safety help. The Steelers linebackers take a couple of false steps forward, biting on the strong play-action fake to Ridley.
Tom Brady recognizes that Gronkowski is singled to his left, while the Steelers have double coverage on the right side of the field. The Steelers corner is trying in vain to push Gronkowski to the sideline, but he has already read that the middle of the field is wide open.
Gronkowski crosses the corner's face and is greeted by a strike thrown by Brady. Without a clean release, Gronkowski wouldn't have been able to get on the corner so quickly and dictate the route. If teams continue to give Gronkowski a free pass on the line of scrimmage, they will pay dearly.
In our second play—near the start of the fourth quarter—the Steelers seem to have made some adjustments. They are showing Brady a Cover 1 Robber look, with Cortez Allen lined up across from Gronkowski. The Patriots are in an empty set with 01 personnel.
Gronkowski looks to be Brady's first read, as you can see Brady checking on both his tight end and Troy Polamalu lurking in the middle of the field. Allen has successfully jammed Gronkowski's release and has not allowed him to separate.
Six yards down the field, Allen still hasn't let Gronkowski out of his grasp. Brady has come off his first read and sees Aaron Dobson uncovered coming across the middle.
Gronkowski finally breaks free seven yards down the field, but it is too late. However, you can't say he didn't make a difference. By keeping Polamalu deep, Gronkowski has opened up the middle of the field for his rookie teammate. Dobson makes the catch and is able to pick up the first down.
A couple of years after my Super Nintendo disappointment, I found a shiny new Nintendo 64 waiting for me under the Christmas tree. If Gronkowski continues to play as well as he has, perhaps Patriots fans will have a nice present waiting for them at the end of the season.