Despite allowing tight end Brent Celek to make eight receptions for a career-high 157 yards in the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-23 win Sunday, the Ravens say they're not panicking over the impending visit from Rob Gronkowski and the New England Patriots.
"[A] lot of those things are simple coverage adjustments — whether one person reads this or you take this away or take that away," inside linebacker Ray Lewis said Wednesday. "And last week is already in the past. I think this week, it's really about focusing on [quarterback Tom] Brady and kind of getting him off his spot. If you let him sit in the pocket, it's like seven-on-seven [skeleton drill] for them."
Last season, Gronkowski set an NFL record for tight ends with 1,327 receiving yards, surpassing the mark of 1,290 set in 1980 by Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers. Gronkowski also established a league record for the position with 17 receiving touchdowns, eclipsing the mark of 13 that had been shared by Antonio Gates of the Chargers (2004) and Vernon Davis of the San Francisco 49ers (2009).
This season, Gronkowski leads the Patriots in receiving yards (135) and touchdowns (two), but Ravens free safety Ed Reed sounded defiant about keeping the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski in check.
"Not a big mismatch at all," Reed said. "It's just a matter of knowing where your help is at within the scheme of things and playing your coverage. He's going to get some also because he is a great tight end and a great receiver. You just have to be mindful of where he's at and what he does."
The Eagles thrived last week due to a combination of factors. Strong safety Bernard Pollard, who is fast and strong enough to shadow tight ends, bruised his ribs on the final play of the first quarter and did not return. And Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick's elusiveness allowed Celek to exploit the middle portion of the field as the Ravens' defenders concerned themselves with deep routes run by the wide receivers.
That would appear to be a blueprint for success for New England, but Brady declined to say whether the offense would emphasize targeting Gronkowski.
"You have to wait and see how the game plays out," Brady said. "If the focus is on the tight ends, we have to throw it somewhere else. I always feel like we have to get the ball to the guys that are open, not a certain position or player. The guy that's open is usually going to get the ball. I am going to try to read the coverage and take my read based on the play and then try to make a good throw."
Perhaps the one silver lining regarding Sunday night's game against the Patriots is the absence of fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez, who is expected to miss as much as eight weeks due to a right ankle injury suffered in Sunday's 20-18 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
New England coach Bill Belichick was reluctant to say much about how Hernandez's absence would impact the offense. "We have confidence in all our players," he said. "We have confidence in the players we put out there. Whatever group, whatever combination we put out there, we expect them to do well and we're confident they will." Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger pointed out that the Patriots signed tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. and also have Michael Hoomanawanui.
"I really don't see that changing much," Kruger said. "From what I've seen, they run a lot of the same stuff so we're just going to keep digging, finding stuff on tape and studying and making sure we come up with the best game plan."