Michael Lombardi knows Bill Belichick well, having worked with the Patriots head coach both in New England and Cleveland.
Lombardi served as the Patriots’ assistant to the coaching staff from 2014-16, so he was able to observe Rob Gronkowski on the field during his tenure there.
Given his close involvement with the Patriots players and coaching staff, it’s safe to say that Lombardi knows Gronk well. And he offered a major reason as to why the Patriots tight end has been ineffective this season, in the most recent edition of The Ringer’s “GM Street” podcast.
“Gronk doesn’t have the same quickness that he once had,” Lombardi said. “The great combination of Gronk and Aaron Hernandez: Aaron Hernandez was quick, Gronk was quick and explosive. Gronk is more of a builder of speed now. People are playing for that, so none of those underneath routes really apply to Gronk. It’s got to be throws up the field. That limits what you do offensively and I think that’s the challenge for New England.”
That’s a fair observation, as Gronkowski hasn’t been able to get open downfield much at all this season. It’s possible that the injuries he’s suffered over the years have begun to take a toll on him, so maybe he has lost a step or two. He’s also faced a lot of double and sometimes even triple coverage, as the Patriots have lacked a run game, so opposing defenses have focused on taking away Gronk.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman is eligible to return from suspension in Week 5, and his presence on the field should help free up Gronk. Currently, the Patriots tight end has hauled in only 13 catches for 189 yards (one touchdown), so the team will need to get him going if they want to get off the schneid.