Why is Rob Gronkowski so Good? Tom Brady explains

Indianapolis Colts v New England PatriotsWhile Rob Gronkowski has solid physical attributes, he doesn’t appear to jump off the charts among tight ends. Nevertheless, he has no true peers when it comes to receiving numbers, where Gronkowski’s 40 catches, 646 yards and seven touchdowns are far ahead of anybody else. So just what is it that makes the New England Patriots tight end so much better than others at his position?

Well, it certainly doesn’t hurt that Gronkowski has one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady, throwing to him. But even then, it’s not like every receiver that Brady has played with is headed for the Hall of Fame like Gronk.

The 26-year-old is also great at combining size (6’6″), speed (4.68 forty time) and catching ability. However, as alluded to before, there have been tight ends who are even faster and more athletic. So is there an even deeper reason? Perhaps Brady best explained the matter by telling reporters the following:

“Gronk running down the seam, he’s such a big target. I think he’s got a great catch radius. He’s got great speed. I don’t know what he was timed when he came out of college, but he gives great body language when he runs. I can really tell when he really starts to accelerate, and he feels like he can run by the guy that is on him.

“Even the throw I made the other night to him, it wasn’t even really a great throw. But because he was by him so far, he was able to adjust and make it. He makes a tough play on the defender. The guy’s running so hard to catch up, then you throw it a little bit behind Gronk, the guy’s really out of control playing him.”

rob-gronkowski-patriotsIt seems that the subtleties about Gronk – body language, adjusting, deceptive speed – are what separate him from other skilled tight ends. And then of course, there’s the fact that he rarely ever drops anything that hits his hands. Finally, it’s rare for a tight end to be so good at adjusting for under-thrown balls.

It’s almost hard to believe that Gronk is only in his mid-20s, given that so many players don’t hit their peak until their late 20s. And his numbers are good enough to keep up with any elite NFL receiver. Through seven games, Gronk is currently on pace for 91 catches, 1,477 yards and 16 touchdowns, which would be his best-ever season.

Not coincidentally, the Patriots are also undefeated and looking like the best team in the league right now. Gronkowski has been a huge part of this too and it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see New England win their second straight Super Bowl the way things are going now.

New England Offensive Line Change is shaking up NFL

new-england-patriots-2015-linemenIt seems like every year, the New England Patriots are relevant in the Super Bowl hunt. So why is this the case? Continually having superior players? Tom Brady? Rob Gronkowski? Well, all of this helps, but what coach Bill Belichick and the Pats truly excel at is making masterful in-season changes that give them an edge in the Xs and Os.

This time around, it may be a unique offensive line change that’s helped New England rack up 119 points through three games so far. In these three contests, the Patriots have already used nine different O-line combinations. During a 51-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, they introduced a 10th line change that paved the way for LeGarrette Blount’s three touchdowns. When they played Pittsburgh in Week 1, they changed every O-line package until the sixth possession.

Their line switches look pretty basic to the naked eye. Most rotations happen at the guard spot, while three lineman – LG Shaq Mason, LG Josh Kline and RG Tre Jackson – have done plenty of shuffling. This isn’t the most-revolutionary thing to hit the league because most teams like to keep their linemen fresh by rotating them.

However, the key difference is that the Patriots are making these switches and sometimes going away from their best line combination. This differs greatly from other NFL teams because, as common logic would suggest, you want your best O-line combo on the field as much as possible. However, as Belichick is showing, there may be something to constantly tinkering with your lineup and confusing opponents, even if it’s your go-to lineup.

Tom BradyAs the Boston Herald reports, these changes are certainly throwing wrenches in opposing teams’ plans. But while this is a nice byproduct of what New England is doing, the team’s offensive line coach, Dave DeGuglielmo, says that this isn’t simply a random occurrence done to cause confusion.

“It’s not done just randomly,” DeGuglielmo said. “There’s a specific reason why we rotate guys when we do, where we rotate them. There’s a rhyme and reason to everything.”

This is all DeGuglielmo would give up, which only makes sense given that he coaches for the always secretive Patriots. But one concrete reason why the team might be doing what they are is because Mason and Jackson are rookies, while Kline is a third-year player. Shuffling them in different lineups allows the young players to get extra in-game coaching and also keep them fresh.

Another thought is that Belichick could still be trying to figure out what his best line combo is several games into the regular season. After all, he’s got plenty of youngsters on the line that he needs to evaluate.

Whatever the case may be, it’s obvious that what they’re doing is working. New England is off to a dominating 3-0 start, and they’re early favorites to win the AFC. Assuming the outstanding line play continues, then it’s not so hard to see the Patriots gunning for their second-straight Super Bowl title.

No Gronk, No Problem as Patriots will lean Heavily on Vereen

shane-vereenThis week brought terrible news for the New England Patriots as they found out that Rob Gronkowski is done for the season with a torn ACL and MCL. So while Gronk now focuses on his February cameo in the “Entourage” movie, New England has to find a way to replace one of the NFL’s top two tight ends.

This is certainly no easy task either, when you consider that the 6’6″ pass-catching machine racked up 592 yards and 4 touchdowns in just 7 games this season. But if there’s anybody capable of softening this blow, it’s running back Shane Vereen.

Vereen has no doubt had his own injury struggles, missing eight games with a wrist injury. But when he’s on the field, he has been an incredible weapon for the Patriots. Vereen is the guy whom Tom Brady looks to when plays break down or there’s good down-field coverage. Brady had this type of target when Kevin Faulk was on the team a few years ago. But Vereen seems to be even more talented and is great at picking up yards after the catch.

shane-vereen-1Sure, the California product won’t generate any eye-popping rushing stats. After all, he has just 186 rushing yards on 38 carries in 2013. But his receiving stats are certainly notable since he’s hauled in 40 catches for 373 yards and a TD – all within five games’ work. Vereen’s last performance against Cleveland was especially impressive because he caught 12 balls for 153 yards, and added a touchdown run.

When Shane Vereen is on the field, it really forces defenses to keep an eye on him in the passing game. The end result is that there’s one less safety or linebacker dropping back in the secondary. Even when the opposition is focusing on Vereen, he has the ability to turn a short catch into a long run, as evidenced by the 50-yard play he made against Cleveland late in the third quarter.

Considering everything that we’ve discussed so far, you can’t count out New England’s offense down the stretch based on Gronk’s season-ending injury. It certainly isn’t good that their star tight end has been put on the shelf. But you also shouldn’t suddenly start betting against the Patriots when it comes to point spreads or live wagering. After all, Vereen is going to be picking up a lot of this slack throughout the end of the regular season and into the playoffs.

NFL Power Rankings for Week 14 (Dec. 5th, 2013)

peyton-manning-chiefsLast week was characterized by a couple of very high-profile matchups between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs, as well as the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints. The Broncos proved their dominance of the AFC West by beating their division rivals on the road by a score of 35-28. Kansas City is still a lock for the playoffs, but the illusion of their defensive dominance is now gone.

As for the Saints and Seahawks, this one wasn’t even close as Seattle throttled the visiting team. Most believe that the Saints are nearly invincible inside of the Superdome. But they appeared very mortal while playing at CenturyLink Field. Here’s a look at how last week’s featured games will shake up the Week 14 NFL power rankings.

1. Denver Broncos (10-2); beat Kansas City 35-28, retains same ranking – The margin between Seattle and Denver is slim. But it’s hard to bump Peyton and company out of the top spot when they just beat a playoff-bound Chiefs for the second time this season. Eric Decker had the game of his life after reeling in four of Manning’s five touchdown passes.

2. Seattle Seahawks (11-1); beat New Orleans 34-7, retains same ranking – So much for that bolstered New Orleans defense… Russell Wilson looked like a 10-year veteran the way he picked apart the Saints defense to the tune of 310 passing yards and three touchdowns. Oh yea, and Seattle’s defense was pretty good too as they shut down one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

3. New England Patriots (9-3); beat Houston 34-31, moves up two spots – The Pats got off to a slow start against Houston. But they once again staged a big comeback on the strength of Tom Brady’s 371 yards and two touchdowns. On a side note, Stevan Ridley’s days as New England’s starting running back appear over.

colin-kaepernick4. San Francisco 49ers (8-4); beat St. Louis 23-13, moves up two spots – San Francisco ended St. Louis’ hot streak and took a big step forward in the race for NFC playoff positioning. The Niners, who began the year trying to feature Colin Kaepernick’s talents more, seem to be getting back to this approach now that they’ve got some wins under their belt.

5. New Orleans Saints (9-3); lost to Seattle 34-7, drops two spots – The Saints didn’t suddenly become a bad team just because they got blown out by a fellow NFC powerhouse. However, this loss does raise some questions about New Orleans’ ability to win big games away from home.

6. Carolina Panthers (9-3); beat Tampa Bay 27-6, moves up one spot – Nobody predicted this week’s game against New Orleans to be a battle for first place in the NFC South. But that’s exactly where we’re at after Carolina won a franchise-record eighth straight game. Cam Newton is playing the best football of his three-year career, and just threw for 263 yards, ran for 68 yards, and accounted for three TD’s against the Buccaneers.

7. Kansas City Chiefs (9-3); lost to Denver 35-28, drops three spots – Alex Smith is really looking solid at QB after piling up 293 passing yards, 46 rushing yards, and three total TD’s. But what happened to that vaunted KC pass rush from earlier this year? Manning went virtually untouched for the second time these two teams faced.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (8-4); beat San Diego 17-10, moves up one spot – Holding the Chargers to 10 points at home is no small feat. The Bengals supplemented their great defensive effort with a strong running game (164 yards on 38 carries).

9. Indianapolis Colts (8-4); beat Tennessee Titans 22-14, moves up one spot – The Colts put a halt to their massive struggles with a hard-fought victory over Tennessee. Their lack of a running game is disturbing and the Trent Richardson deal is officially a dud. But they still have a little bit of time to fix these issues before the postseason.

demarco-murray10. Dallas Cowboys (7-5); beat Oakland 31-24, moves up one spot – Dallas used a surprisingly effective two-back approach, with Lance Dunbar rushing for 82 yards on 12 carries and DeMarco Murray gaining 63 yards on 19 carries. Murray also got into the end zone three times against the soft Oakland D.

11. Philadelphia Eagles (7-5); beat Arizona 24-21, moves up one spot – Philadelphia keeps pace with Dallas in the NFC West with a huge victory over Arizona. Is it time to anoint Nick Foles (237PYDS, 3TD) as one of the league’s top QB’s?

12. Detroit Lions (7-5); beat Green Bay 40-10, moves up one spot – The Lions absolutely terrorized Matt Flynn in the pocket and racked up seven sacks and a safety. Now, the challenge will be repeating this dominant performance against teams without Flynn under center.

13. Arizona Cardinals (7-5); lost to Philadelphia 24-21, drops five spots – The Cardinals don’t really deserve this free-fall after losing by three points on the road. But with everybody behind them winning and boasting a similar record, the margin for error is slim in this range.

14. Baltimore Ravens (6-6); beat Pittsburgh 22-20, moves up three spots – Like any true champion, the Ravens aren’t going down without a fight. They scraped by with five field goals, and dug in to stop a two-point conversion with 1:03 left.

15. Miami Dolphins (6-6); beat New York Jets 23-3, moves up three spots – You have to give Miami some credit for battling back to .500 with all of the controversy surrounding them. It now appears that they’re in a two-team race with Baltimore for the last AFC Wild Card spot.

adrian-peterson-rushing-record16. Chicago Bears (6-6); lost to Minnesota 23-20 (OT), drops two spots – Chicago blew a golden opportunity to keep pace with the Lions in the NFC North. Their defense once again got gashed by a running back, with Adrian Peterson rushing for 211 yards on 35 carries.

17. San Diego Chargers (5-7); lost to Cincinnati 17-10, drops two spots – After a dramatic 3-point victory at Kansas City last week, San Diego couldn’t keep the magic going at home against the Bengals. The offense was surprisingly ineffective, especially when they crossed the 50-yard-line, and failed to complete drive after drive.

18. Green Bay Packers (5-6-1); lost to Detroit 40-10, drops two spots – Aaron Rodgers may be back this week. But the Pack is also down one and a half games in the NFC North, which is probably too wide of a margin to make up.

19. New York Giants (5-7); beat Washington 24-17, moves up four spots – New York kept their slim postseason hopes alive thanks to four sacks from Justin Tucker. Andre Brown also added two touchdown runs, though he only gained 35 yards on 14 carries.

20. Tennessee Titans (5-7); lost to Indianapolis 22-14, retains same ranking – Although they lost, Tennessee is still just a game out of the AFC Wild Card race, and they hold all of the tiebreakers.

21. New York Jets (5-7); lost to Miami 23-3, drops two spots – New York is just playing terribly on offense right now. At least Rex Ryan finally had the nerve to bench Geno Smith after another awful outing (29PYDS, 1INT). Unfortunately, Matt Simms isn’t much better…

22. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7); lost to Baltimore 22-20, drops one spot – Not only did Mike Tomlin earn himself a big fine for stepping in the way of a Jacoby Jones’ 73-yard kickoff return, but he also may have costed Pittsburgh a draft pick. Not exactly the best way to build for the future.

zac-stacy23. St. Louis Rams (5-7); lost to San Francisco 23-13, drops one spot – St. Louis fought hard on the road against a superior team. Zac Stacy turned in a tough game against this loaded defense as he rushed for 78 yards on 19 carries. He’s definitely a good building block for the future.

24. Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1); beat Chicago 23-20 (OT), moves up five spots – The teams from here on out are so bad that Minnesota leaps up five spots for grabbing a win against the Bears. Adrian Peterson finally looked like he did in the second half of last season, showing he has more than enough left in the tank.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9); beat Cleveland 32-28, moves up five spots – It’s finally time to consider the Jaguars a legitimate NFL team again. Chad Henne led a late comeback after finding Cecil Shorts in the end zone with 40 seconds remaining.

26. Cleveland Browns (4-8); lost to Jacksonville 32-28, drops two spots – As if it were possible, Cleveland is about to get a lot worse! Now both Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden are hurt, leaving the Browns picking at the bottom of the barrel for a healthy QB.

27. Oakland Raiders (4-8); lost to Dallas 31-24, drops two spots – After some ups and downs this season, Oakland is having yet another bad season. Perhaps they’ve found a quarterback for next year in Matt McGloin, though.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9); lost to Carolina 27-6, drops two spots – At this point, it’s very difficult to see Greg Schaino keeping his job. So Tampa Bay will essentially go back to the drawing board this offseason.

29. Atlanta Falcons (3-9); beat Buffalo 34-31 (OT), moves up two spots – Atlanta finally got the type of all-around offensive production they’ve been looking for, with Matt Ryan throwing for 311 yards and 1 TD, and Steven Jackson rushing for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

30. Buffalo Bills (4-8); lost to Atlanta 34-31 (OT), drops three spots – The good news is that CJ Spiller (149RYDS, 1TD) finally looked like the back that Buffalo was expecting this year. The bad news is that it comes when this team’s season has already gone down the drain.

31. Washington Redskins (3-9); lost to New York Giants 24-17, drops three spots – Washington has now been eliminated from the postseason in 17 of the last 21 years. After this season’s disappointment, some wonder if Mike Shanahan will be around in 2014.

32. Houston Texans (2-10); lost to New England 34-31, retains same ranking – Another close call for Houston, another loss. The Texans haven’t won since September 15th and it’s questionable if that will change before 2013 ends.

 

New England Patriots Running Back Situation Murky at Best

stevan-ridley-fumbleThe New England Patriots are arguably coming off their biggest win of the season – a 34-31 overtime thriller over the Denver Broncos. Based on the rest of the division, they’re all but guaranteed to win the AFC East at this point and have a pretty soft remaining schedule. But despite all of the positive signs, there’s definitely trouble brewing in Foxborough. For whatever reason, the Patriots just can’t seem to find a running back who’s capable of carrying the load.

Now, based on talent alone, Stevan RIdley appeared to be that guy when the season opened. After all, the third-year back out of LSU was coming off a year where he rushed for 1,263 yards and 12 touchdowns. But he started 2013 off on a sour note after fumbling twice in the first game – one of which was narrowly ruled to have hit the ground first. The fumble that did count was enough to convince Bill Belichick to bench his star running back while Shane Vereen took over.

Vereen got hurt, though, which left Ridley in a committee with Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. Things would remain this way until a few more weeks into the regularshane-vereen season, when Ridley took over as the lead back again. Unfortunately, he’s now lost a fumble in three straight games for the Pats. His latest one was returned by the Broncos for a touchdown, thus relegating Ridley to the bench for the rest of the game.

So where does this leave the Patriots’ running back situation right now? It’s really anybody’s guess because all four RB’s should get playing time moving forward. Vereen is considered the lead passing back, while Bolden backs him up and sometimes carries the ball. Blount is the other early-down back besides Ridley, and he’s put up 374 yards on just 82 carries. So this power back is likely to remain heavily involved moving forward too.

Of course, the Pats will remain a pass-first offense, using the run to balance things out. But you still have to wonder about New England when you’re considering them for regular or live wagering opportunities. They’re a very good football team with plenty of weapons and Tom Brady under center. However, they are also a team that’s failed to establish a reliable running back who’s guaranteed to gut tough yards out – without fumbling in the process.

Tim Tebow makes Case for New England to keep Him

tom-brady-patriotsUp until last night’s preseason game against the New York Giants, Tim Tebow had given New England very little reason to keep him. The former Heisman Trophy winner was just 5-for-17 with 54 passing yards, no touchdowns, 1 interception, and a few other passes that could’ve been picked.

Given these numbers and the fact that he saw no action against the Detroit Lions in the Patriots’ third preseason game, many saw this as a telltale sign that he wouldn’t survive cuts. But maybe some opinions will change after how Tebow performed against the Giants.

Now let’s establish right away that this was no earth-shattering performance which foreshadowed a promising QB ready to take the reigns from Tom Brady. But it’s possible that he may have earned a spot on the 53-man roster after completing 6-of-11 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

Playing the whole second half, Tebow connected with Quentin Sims on a 54-yard touchdown pass. The throw was a little high, but Sims found a way to pull the ball in and run another 38 yards into the end zone. This duo wasn’t finished yet because, with 6 seconds left in the game, Tebow found Sims for a 9-yard TD on a nice fade route. On this particular throw, the former Florida Gators star actually looked like a legitimate NFL quarterback.

tom-brady-patriots-1However, there were also plays that weren’t so pretty. Tebow wasn’t always so quick to find his receivers, he held the ball too long, and was sacked four times early in the second half. He also tossed one pick after throwing down the sideline into coverage. This one mistake didn’t erase an otherwise decent performance, but it was an ugly throw nonetheless.

Now Bill Belichick and his coaching staff will pit the pros against the cons and decide if Tebow is worth keeping as a project quarterback. On most teams, Tebow would be kept since the majority of the NFL likes to have three QB’s on the roster. But Belichick has sometimes only kept two signal callers in the past, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he did so this time around too. Brady is the star while Ryan Mallet will no doubt be his immediate backup should an injury happen.

As for Tebow, he tried his best last night to convince Belichick that New England should keep a third QB. He’s also a very coachable player who’s willing to make sacrifices and do what’s asked of him. Plus he has a proven track as a winner, having won two national titles at Florida and boasting an 8-6 record as an NFL starter.

These factors will all be weighed going into this weekend, when Tebow and many other fringe players throughout the league find out if they made final cuts.