Coming into the season, you knew it would be tough for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to duplicate his record-setting 2011 season. But few expected the type of sharp decline "Gronk" has had in the first three games.
Gronkowski's season averages are down across the board so far in 2012. His receptions are down nearly a catch per game and he's gaining about 30 fewer yards each week.
"It’s a team game," Gronkowski told reporters this week. "Whatever plays are called, just going out there and doing my job. Whatever is asked of me, I’m just going to go out there and perform my routes based on how I’ve been coached that week."
Overall, the opportunities haven't been there for Gronkowski. Here are several factors that have contributed to his decline in production:
Aaron Hernandez being sidelined by an ankle injury has allowed teams to pay more attention to Gronkowski. The Baltimore Ravens made it a point to take “Gronk” out the game and limited him to just two catches for 21 yards. Wes Welker (eight catches, 142 yards) had a big game instead.
New England's pass protection has been inconsistent. This has impacted Gronkowski in two ways. First, Gronkowski has stayed in to block more this year to assist in pass protection. It’s hard to catch passes if you’re not running as many routes. Second, quarterback Tom Brady, who has been sacked seven times already, is getting more pressure and less time in the pocket to find Gronkowski.
Finally, Brady is struggling to connect on downfield throws. The AFC East blog did a post last week explaining the decline in accuracy Brady has had throwing the ball deep. Defenses know this and are willing to focus more on short and intermediate routes, which is the area Gronkowski does the most damage.
It's too early to panic with Gronkowski. The Patriots (1-2) overall are struggling, but there's a lot of time to right the ship.