McDaniels: Pats' game plan doesn't depend on Gronk

McDaniels: Pats' game plan doesn't depend on Gronk
October 8, 2013, 2:30 pm
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Rob Gronkowski is a big reason for the Patriots offensive turnaround against the Steelers.

(USA Today Sports Images)

Rob Gronkowski is reportedly set to return this week. The big tight end has been sidelined all year while recovering from offseason procedures done on his back and forearm.

Reporters have been forced into 'Will he-Won't he?' speculation since Gronkowski's Sunday status was upgraded to Questionable in Week 3. But while fans have been driven crazy by the suspense, one has to imagine the uncertainty is a lot more troublesome in the team's preparations.

According to Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, they've made it work.

"We try to design a plan that's balanced, that gives each position an opportunity to contribute -- in the running game, passing game, third down, red zone, whatever the situation may be," he said. "We've really just tried to focus on the defense that we're playing, how the best way to attack them is, and understanding that there may be an element of, are we certain, are we uncertain? I've really tried to focus on just trying to get the guys to practice as well as they can."

The fact Gronkowski has been at the team's regular-season workouts since Day 1 is a plus.

"If Rob happened to be playing, maybe we'd try to tweak a few things, maybe we wouldn't. I know he's practiced, been a part of our practices, which is great; he's taken his reps.

"And I think really our focus hasn't changed and we really haven't dramatically had to shift anything. You just have to do the best things that you can against the defense that you're playing."

McDaniels noted there are always slight adjustments to be made. The team must be hoping Gronkowski's return will have a bigger impact on the field than in the game plan.

One place the tight end's help is sorely needed is in red-zone offense. New England's 35.3-percent efficiency of scoring touchdowns is ranked 31st in the league. By comparison, the Patriots converted 67.5 percent of their opportunities last season, which was third-highest in the NFL.

Gronkowski has been targeted 58 times in the red zone since 2010. He's caught 69 percent of those passes for a league-best 29 receiving touchdowns in that area.

"If there's a different player who's available to you on Sunday, we deal with that every week," McDaniels said. "I think the players are used to it, as well; they don't really flinch when you make an adjustment on Friday or Saturday night, or whatever it may be that you think may be in the best interest in playing the game."

It's hard to imagine Gronkowski's comeback as anything but.