The Ravens may have watched enough film of New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to last them a lifetime. But the scrutiny is well-deserved.
Gronkowski set a NFL record for tight ends with 1,327 yards, eclipsing the 1980 mark of 1,290 set by the San Diego Chargers’ Kellen Winslow. He also established a new league standard with 17 touchdown catches, surpassing the record of 13 shared by the Chargers’ Antonio Gates (2004) and the San Francisco 49ers’ Vernon Davis (2009).
Hernandez wasn’t exactly a wallflower, finishing the regular season with 910 yards and seven touchdowns. Gronkowski and Hernandez combined for 169 receptions – the most by a pair of tight ends in the same season in NFL history.
“There’s probably not a better duo in the league,” Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “Hernandez, they use him everywhere. They use him as a running back. He runs a lot of vertical routes, runs a lot of underneath routes. And then Gronkowski, he’s just a big, physical body who can run. You think he’s 6-6, 265 [pounds] or whatever he is, but you watch him on film and he’s running away from people. So it’s a huge challenge for us. But you’ve just got to match up and play.”
At 6-3 and 260 pounds, Johnson has the strength to match up with Gronkowski and the 6-1, 245-pound Hernandez. The defense could also go with inside linebackers Jameel McClain (6-1, 245) or Brendon Ayanbadejo (6-1, 225).
Strong safety Bernard Pollard (6-1, 224), who has the speed to keep pace with Gronkowski and Hernandez, said the key may lie in being physical with that duo.
“If you look at them, sometimes they run downfield by themselves. We can’t have that happen,” Pollard said. “We have to have guys on them at all times. We’ve got to run around, we’ve got to hit, we’ve got to tackle. I’m a strong believer that if you hit, tackle, and hit people hard, people don’t like that. A lot of people don’t like that. Not to say that they’re soft or anything else. I’m just saying that a lot of offensive people don’t like being hit.”