The return of Rob Gronkowski is having a trickle-down effect on the Patriots offense.

Either a defense allocates extra attention to him, which frees up other players for 1-on-1 coverage, or a defense tries to cover Gronkowski 1-on-1 and loses that matchup based on either size or athleticism.

One of the areas it seems to be bearing fruit is in the middle of the field. Whether it's Gronkowski or others (Danny Amendola on two occasions this past Sunday), patterns that utilize the area between the numbers are starting to pay bigger dividends. The reason? You have to allocate a player to cover Gronkowski and another one further downfield to act as support.

“When you got a guy his size, he’s just hard to cover,” said tight ends coach George Godsey. “Usually those bodies that are just coming down from a safety standpoint and from a range standpoint aren’t able to cover that. And Rob’s athletic ability along with that size, it’s a big factor inside, and I think that’s an area he’s done a lot of damage in during his career. If we can find that matchup, we’re going to take it.”

I asked Godsey how close Gronkowski is to his former self.

“It’s the third game that he’s got back in,” Godsey pointed out. “He took a lot of snaps the first week, a little bit less the second and right back to where he was -- about 50 snaps -- this past week. He’s working hard. And that’s all Rob does. He always works hard. If he can keep improving in the run game and pass game, he’ll get to where he we want him to be.”

Godsey, who’s been with the Patriots since 2011, has seen his tight end corps drastically altered this year.