Is there a scheme to limit the Patriots' TEs?

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Patriots’ TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are a matchup issue for any defensive game plan with Tom Brady at QB. We have seen the production throughout the regular season and in the Patriots' 45-10 win over the Broncos in the Divisional playoffs.

Today, I want to get on the chalkboard and discuss a coverage I would carry in my game plan this Sunday when the Ravens travel to Foxborough for the AFC Championship game. A combination man scheme (which I call Cover 7) that can focus on limiting the TE position. Let’s take a look at it on the chalkboard and break it down.

Ravens vs. Patriots
Offensive personnel:
Ace (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB)
Formation: Doubles “Orange” Exchange

Offensive ID:
Wes Welker
X- Deion Branch
U- Rob Gronkowski
Y- Aaron Hernandez


Cover 7 calls:
2-on-1 vs. No.2 (slot receiver)
Fist: 2-Man technique (deep half safety, man-under)
Solo: Man coverage, no safety help

Coaching Points:

1. Pre-snap disguise: I want to show pressure here to the closed side of the formation with the SS walked down to the line of scrimmage and Terrell Suggs aligned as the Sam Backer (S) rushing off the edge. Let Brady see possible Cover 1 (man-free) pressure with Ed Reed in the deep middle of the field and then roll to coverage responsibilities before the snap (“Slice,” “Fist”). You can’t just line up vs. the Patriots’ QB. Instead, give him something to think about.

2. Taking away Gronkowski: I have the Will linebacker (W) working with Reed (FS) on the “Slice” call to the open side of the formation to double Gronkowski (U). The Will takes the first outside cut (out, corner) with the FS taking the first inside cut (post, dig). Think of it as a “bracket” coverage vs. the TE.

3. Playing Hernandez: I feel more comfortable with a nickel corner on Hernandez (Y) over a LB or a safety because of his ability to run the option route, change directions and use his lateral speed to create separation. With Welker (Z) aligned as the No.2, I will bump my CB inside and play 2-Man to that side of the field. Both DBs will align with an inside shade, play to the bottom hip of the receiver and undercut any route that breaks back to the middle of the field—with safety help over the top.

4. The “Solo” call: Every coverage has a matchup that can get you beat—quickly. Here, that is to the open side of the field over Branch (X). In “solo” coverage, I am telling my CB that he has no help over the top on the 9 (fade). If Gronkowski breaks to the out route, the CB may get some help from Reed on the post or deep dig, but he has to know that he must win at the line of scrimmage and stay on top of any vertical route.

The Ravens’ defensive game plan will have multiple pressure packages and coverages, however this is one scheme I would carry in my game plan. Think crucial situations (3rd downs, red zone) where you can focus on eliminating the TE position in Brady’s route progressions.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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