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How Scott Chandler Can Fill in for Rob Gronkowski in Patriots Offense

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IDecember 2, 2015

New England Patriots tight end Scott Chandler (88) pulls in a touchdown catch against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 29, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

The New England Patriots dodged a Rob Gronkowski-sized bullet.

That's the only way to verbalize what it would have meant for the Patriots to lose their All-Pro tight end for the remainder of the season. Fortunately for New England, their best skill-position player not named Tom Brady will just be out "multiple weeks," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Unfortunately, they'll still have to replace him for the time being.

The "next man up" company line/mantra works just fine up to a certain point. But Gronkowski might be that "certain point," or at least he seems to be when combined with the losses of wide receiver Julian Edelman, running back Dion Lewis and offensive tackle Nate Solder along with the temporary absence of wide receiver Danny Amendola.

With that said, Scott Chandler is the next name on the depth chart, so he's likely to be the one with the tall task of subbing in for the big-bodied tight end.

Per Mike Reiss of ESPN.com, Chandler played a season-high 54 snaps out of a possible 66 (81.8 percent) against Denver. Before Sunday night, Chandler had averaged just 24.8 snaps per game. He has been an afterthought in the Patriots offense from time to time this year, playing just seven snaps against the New York Jets on Oct. 25 and just 10 snaps against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 11.

"Scott did a great job last night when he was kind of forced into that particular role that Gronk has been in," Brady said Monday morning on WEEI's The Dennis & Callahan Morning Show. "He's acclimated really well. He's obviously going to be relied on heavily if Gronk is out."

Scott Chandler's 2015 season
Time frameWeeks 1-11Week 12
Snaps19354
Receptions145
Targets2311
Catch %60.945.5
Yards14058
YPR1011.8
TD21
Drops32
Source: ProFootballFocus.com

He was already heavily relied on against the Broncos. Reiss noted that Chandler had played 11 of the team's first 19 offensive snaps (57.9 percent), so he was on pace to be a big part of the offensive game plan even before Gronkowski's injury. Of course, Gronkowski's injury only put the microscope even closer on Chandler.

And with the microscope closing in on him, there were times when he left plays on the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Chandler has dropped five passes this season. He had two drops on Sunday against Denver, leading to some hand-wringing over his stone hands.

Eric Wilbur @GlobeEricWilbur

Scott Chandler has become the neighborhood kid nobody likes but your Mom forces you to play with.

With Gronkowski out of action, Chandler must make the most of every opportunity, catch every pass thrown his way and force defenses to respect his presence on the field. He may not earn Gronkowskian levels of respect from opposing defensive units, but Gronkowski is extremely rare in that regard. 

Chandler doesn't have to put up Gronkowskian numbers, either. But based simply on the Patriots' lack of other options, his numbers are likely to go way up. Before Sunday's game against the Broncos, Chandler averaged just two targets, one catch and 14 yards per game. On Sunday, he finished with 11 targets, five receptions, 58 yards and a touchdown.

Patriots passing production
PlayerRob GronkowskiEveryone else
Targets92359
Receptions57237
Receiving yards9312669
Yards/reception16.311.3
Touchdowns917
Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com

Three of Chandler's biggest targets were on downfield throws down the right sideline, but all three fell incomplete. Chandler didn't get open one time, and Brady didn't give him much of a chance to make the catch another time. They might have all been incomplete, even if Gronkowski were the target. 

There's a good chance he'll get more opportunities to come down with those passes in the future. Along with Brandon LaFell, Chandler is one of the only big-bodied threats left in the Patriots offense. Chandler is likely to be a target on downfield throws down the seam and on the outside, as opposed to the short throws over the middle where he made his hay in the first 10 games of the season. 

Chandler just needs to hang in there for the next five games. He might be the team's No. 2 or 3 option in the passing game through that stretch, but by the time the playoffs roll around, they'll have Gronkowski, Edelman, LaFell, Amendola and Chandler all on the field at the same time (assuming they're all in good health). 

Unless otherwise noted, advanced statistics obtained via Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus

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