Everybody knows what a great player Rob Gronkowski is. He is a complete tight end. It is difficult to name anything he does not do great. He also impacts the game in more subtle ways. On New England's first touchdown drive, two plays indicate the difficulty he presented the Jets matching up with him.
This is a 12 yard completion to Shane Vereen to set up New England's first touchdown.
Quinton Coples is going to be responsible for playing zone in the left flat.
Off the snap, though, the Jets have Coples try and throw a little jam on Gronkowski to throw him off balance as he gets into his route. They are so focused with minimizing Gronk (with good reason!) that they are using every weapon at their disposal.
Doing this, however, makes Coples a second or so late to his zone, and the Pats got the ball to Vereen in the area Coples is responsible for before Coples can get there. The delay from the jam has had an impact.
We frequently hear talk about a player opening things up for everybody else, but we don't get a ton of examples. This is one. Note that opening things up for other players doesn't typically mean other guys will be wide open. It might mean a spot on the field is open for a second. It's up to the quarterback to recognize it, and the other player to have the ability to make the play. In this instance, Gronk's mere presence has helped to create a 12 yard gain.
The touchdown this set up was a Brady to Gronkowski connection. Gronkowski obviously made the play, but there is something else happening here. His versatility helped make things easier on his quarterback.
Gronkowski is a tight end, which means he frequently will have linebackers and/or safeties assigned to cover him. He is also capable of going out wide and lining up as a wide receiver. That is what he does on the touchdown. Across from him is Calvin Pryor.
Because Gronkowski is lined up wide, the Jets have tipped their coverage on the play. Tom Brady can see Pryor lined up against Gronk. Why else would a safety be lined up way out wide across from him unless it is man to man coverage? There probably isn't another reason. Brady also knows Gronkowski vs. Pryor is a mismatch in his favor, and he knows exactly where he is going before the snap.
So much of what the Jets do defensively is trying to hide their coverages. They hope to trick the quarterback. At the very least, they hope to force the quarterback to take time figuring out their defense, time for their pass rushers to get to the passer. In this case Gronkowski's versatility forced them to show their hand early. It makes things a lot easier on the quarterback to have that piece of information before the snap.
What can we learn from this? It shows the challenges this defense has faced and will face in the future against such a player. It also shows some of the hidden impacts a top weapon like Gronkowski can provide. A player like this makes life easier on everybody whether it is because of versatility or just the respect he commands.
Hopefully Jace Amaro has taken notes for the future.