With the Patriots set to host Baltimore for their divisional round playoff game on Saturday it's time to look at some of the individual matchups that will go a long way toward determining the outcome. We'll take a look at a specific matchup that we feel will be a key to the game each day leading up to kickoff.
We'll start today with a matchup that no team in the NFL seems to have an answer for and that's Rob Gronkowski. The All-Pro tight end is a handful and the Patriots most potent offensive weapon, and the depleted Ravens secondary doesn't appear to have the personnel to deal with him at this point.
Baltimore has been hit hard by injuries this season with 19 players currently on injured reserve. No area has been hit harder than the secondary where starting cornersJimmy Smith and Aaron Ross are out, as well as top reserves Asa Jackson and Danny Gorrer. Those absences have left a lot of holes in the secondary and that's generally how opponents have been able to attack Baltimore throughout the season.
One reason the Ravens have been so susceptible has been the play of starting safeties Will Hill andMatt Elam. Both are Florida products and neither has been particularly effective in coverage, which does not bode well for the task ahead. Gronkowski has been able to take advantage of most every combination he's seen this season, and defensive coordinatorDean Pees choose not to bump him at the line of scrimmage Gronkowski should have a field day with this undersized pair.
Hill, who served a four-game suspension for a PED violation to start the season, likes to play physical but at 6-1, 207 pounds lacks the size to bother Gronkowski in that manner. Elam, 5-10, 200, is even smaller and at times gets caught out of position and doesn't track the ball well.
The tandem's shortcomings were on display on a long catch by Antonio Brown during the Ravens wild card win over Pittsburgh last week. Although Brown is a wide receiver, Hill and fellow safety Jeromy Miles were in position to make a play but couldn't get turned around in time to prevent the big play.
Baltimore will likely ask veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith to jam Gronkowski at the line and drop deep into the middle, as he did on the play against Brown. Asking one man to track Gronkowski is suicide and Pees is too smart to allow that to happen.
But given Gronkowski's propensity for getting deep down the seam, look for Tom Brady to force these safeties to make a play on the ball come Saturday.