Can anyone think of a more unorthodox offense than the 2011 New England Patriots?

Tom Brady threw for 5,325 yards, but no traditional receiver accumulated more than 702 yards. Instead, Brady fed a slot receiver and two tight ends 3,800 yards and 34 TDs. At the forefront of this offense was a 6’6″, 265 behemoth known as ‘The Gronk’, who hauled in 1,327 yards and 17 TDs during the regular season. Rob Gronkowski routinely opened up the middle of the field by running seam routes and preying upon undersized linebackers and safeties. In turn, Gronkowski presence opened up the underneath routes for slot receiver Wes Welker and fellow tight end, Aaron Hernandez, giving the speedy duo one-on-one opportunities. 

Unfortunately for Gronk, he suffered an extremely vicious high ankle sprain late in the third quarter of the AFC Championship and was not a factor for the rest of the game. On the surface, the injury doesn’t seem like a huge deal, given that the Patriots won the game, but after Gronk left the game, the data indicates that the Patriots may have huge issues on Sunday night.

Will Gronk's Injury Cost The Pats?--AP Photo

When Gronkowski limped off the field, his team trailed, 20-16. On the very first play after his injury, Brady threw an interception that was over-ruled by a Terrell Suggs penalty. (This penalty turned into the game winning play). Brady was targeting the speedy Julian Edelman, who saw his snaps increase with Gronkowski out. Without Gronk, Brady was just 4 of 7 with one interception. Here is a breakdown of Brady’s efficiency:

  1. Brady to Welker (9 yards)
  2. Brady incomplete to Green-Ellis
  3. Brady to Welker (8 yards)
  4. Brady to Hernandez (5 yards)
  5. Brady to Slater (intercepted)
  6. Brady to Branch (7 yards)
  7. Brady incomplete to Hernandez

On the surface, Brady didn’t really try to take any shots down the field. Without Gronkowski, the Patriots don’t have a player that can stretch the defense. Welker and Hernandez are great players in space, but the rest of the New England core isn’t scaring anyone. 

On their final scoring drive, the Pats needed four plays from inside the five yard line (three on the one-yard line) to score on the Ravens. Brady clearly missed his massive tight end that he threw three touchdowns to the week before. 

When the Patriots and Giants played during the regular season, Gronkowski grabbed eight balls for 101 yards and a score. Wes Welker, benefiting from Gronkowski’s mere presence, registered 136 yards. Outside of Tom Brady, it’s pretty clear that Rob Gronkowski is the Patriots most valuable offense piece. Gronk is a big, scary dude that creates numerous mismatches for himself and his team mates. It’s clear that the New England offense did clam up a bit without him in the game. 

I’m not a doctor, but as an educated sports fan, I’ve seen enough high ankle sprains to know when one is severe. When I watched Gronkowski get injured against Baltimore, I swore his ankle was broken. Just everything about the fall looked absolutely horrible. I found it amazing that he actually walked off the field. However, I know that this injury is very, very serious. Gronkowski will not practice all week and I doubt he plays at all on Sunday. Last year, Pittsburgh center, Maurkice Pouncey had a similar high ankle sprain and did not play. From experience, a tight end needs to do much more cutting, sliding, and running than a center does. 

Gronkowski’s injury will ultimately spell doom for the Patriots, but there’s zero percent chance that Belichick rules Gronk out. Alike any good coach, he’ll make the Giants game plan to stop him. However, watching the injury on replay and (in real time) almost confirms that Gronkowski will not have the lateral movement and quickness needed to be a factor.

Given how much the Patriot offense clammed up against Baltimore, the Giants will relish in the opportunity to use Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips, and Michael Boley in zone coverage over the middle of the field. 

Gronkowski is a great player and an absolute animal on the field. However, severe high ankle sprains are no joke and nearly impossible to play on after only a week and a half. 

Gronkowski is one of the main reasons why the Patriots are in the Super Bowl. Given the circumstances, his impact on the Super Bowl itself will be very, very minimal and the skills he brings to the field will be greatly missed–and cost the Patriots a chance at another Super Bowl title.