Analysis: Gronk helps, but he's no cure-all

With the potential return Sunday of tight end Rob Gronkowski, the New England Patriots offense will naturally receive a much-needed boost. But Gronkowski, who figures to be managed with a reduced workload in his return, isn't a one-man cure-all.

The struggles the unit has had at times this season run deeper than one player, even a special one like Gronkowski.

For example, Gronkowski's presence won't mean much if the offensive line doesn't protect better than it did in Sunday's 13-6 loss to the Bengals. For all the talk about the Patriots' changes at receiver and tight end, and how that has affected the passing game, the line returned intact from last season and should be a strong point. It was two weeks ago against the Falcons, but as good as that performance was, Sunday's was that disappointing.

The Patriots also need more out of their running game, including a little more of a commitment. They had just six rushes in the second half Sunday after dominating the Falcons on the ground the week before, at one point running 10 straight times.

Then there has been the numerous dropped balls -- 13, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the third highest total in the NFL -- and also some off-the-mark passing from quarterback Tom Brady.

Brady was straightforward in his weekly sports radio WEEI interview Monday when he talked about how the Patriots still have to figure out what they can confidently turn to in critical situations, as an identity has yet to be forged. Brady also touched on "making the plays that NFL players make" and how it's a "myriad of factors leading to overall poor performance."

Gronkowski is a big factor, no doubt, but unless the contributing factors also raise their level of play on a more consistent basis it won't mean much.