Super Bowl XLVI Preview Part II: TE Time!

Posted: February 3, 2012 by mzyohai in NFL, Opinion, Patriots
Tags: , , , , ,

Mike: Now that we’ve gotten the QB’s out of the way, it’s time to shine the spotlight on the best part of the Patriots offense: Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Considering that the Giants have not allowed a tight end to score on them since Christmas Eve, when the Jets’ Josh Baker caught a 5-yard TD-pass in the first quarter…

Nick: Wait, that’s actually not true. Vernon Davis torched the Giants for two touchdowns just one week ago. Nice try, though.

Mike: My sincerest apologies. The Giants allowed two touchdowns to a tight end since Christmas. Considering Gronkowski scored more touchdowns in a single game against the Broncos than the Patriots have allowed all post-season, I would expect you to take the prospect of a serious challenge for him a little more… well… seriously.

So which way is the scale leaning? Will the Giants defense continue to shut down tight ends or will Gronkowski be so whacked-out on Toradol that he’ll manage to mow over defensive backs like the good ol’ days?

Nick: Obviously the answer to that question depends almost solely on the status of Gronkowski’s ankle. (Tangent: If I had the chance to murder Bernard Pollard, I probably would chicken out, ultimately, but I would seriously consider it.) With a high ankle sprain, he’s not likely to be very effective in the open field. That said, even with an injured ankle, Gronk could still serve as a lethal target in the red zone. At 6’6″ with oven mitts that double as vacuum cleaners for hands, he won’t need a whole lot of separation from a linebacker or safety to haul in a short pass. At the very least, the Giants will have to account for him in the red zone and adjust their coverage accordingly. Better than nothing/grasping at straws.

Mike: To the point of status, Gronkowski has been limited in practice and has barely played actual football since the AFC championship game. I still think he’s going to play this weekend (it’s the freakin’ Super Bowl, after all). But his impact will be equal to his practice: limited. Of course, I should probably qualify what “limited impact” means for Gronk, because by his standards this year, less than three TD catches in a game is “limited.” So, I’ll agree that he’s still a threat in the red zone. He won’t have a 100-yard game. He can still have a good day, but I don’t think he’s going to have the MVP-caliber or game-changing performance that would be normal for a healthy Gronkowski.

Nick: Lack of practice is not going to be that big a deal. Gronk already has the Patriots playbook down pat, and he’ll still be able to look at film all week. Would I prefer he was at full ox-level strength and participating fully in practice? Why yes, indeed, Sherlock. You may not want to lay money on him to win Super Bowl MVP, but 6 catches for 70ish yards is good enough to make a difference and force the Giants to tailor their defensive game plan to cover him, which helps the Patriots for obvious reasons.

Gronk not being fully mobile obviously impacts Hernandez’s ability to be effective. But I don’t feel people (including you, who slighted him in your intro with one brief mention, you dick) give Hernandez enough credit. Hernandez is an absurd athlete who has been extremely effective lining up in the tight end, running back, or wide receiver slot the past two games. I think he could be the X factor (it was inevitable that phrase would come up in one of these previews) in the New England offense that puts the Giants defense back on its heels, and I expect him to have a big game.

Mike: Hernandez has been standing in Gronk’s shadow all year. And because of that, I’m reluctant to say that he’ll be a big factor in this game. Hernandez hasn’t had the opportunities this year to beat up on secondaries. Instead he’s made his biggest and most consistent impact from the backfield with carries. I’m not too sure he can make the switch to the first tight end role.

Nick: Hasn’t had the opportunities to beat up secondaries? The man had 79 catches for 910 yards and 7 touchdowns this season. He’s not breaking any records, but that’s top-five for tight ends, top-fifteen for receptions league-wide (after missing two games to injury, no less). He was the sole destructive force against the Broncos at Mile High (9 catches for 129 yards), taking over that primary tight end role when Gronk was ineffective. Maybe lay off the crack rocks, Michael.

Mike: Never, Nicholas. Never.

Nick: To answer your question, I don’t think the Giants are going to be able to counter the one-two punch of the NE TE’s. And even if they do, focusing on taking those two out of the game just opens up the field for receivers out of the backfield and, of course, Wes Welker, who should be able to build on his nine catch, 136 yard day against the Giants in Week 9.

Mike: Way to slip Welker in there. The Patriots had two 100+ yard receivers in Week 9. The Giants had none. The Giants didn’t even have Hakeem Nicks playing. And the Giants still won. Also, if the Giants take out the passing lanes through the middle of the field and force Brady to pass outside the numbers, then the Giants defense will be pulling a Belichick: take out a team’s best option and make them beat you with their second. If you’re putting the Super Bowl fate of the Patriots on a short white dude… best of luck.

Nick: That “short white dude,” happens to lead the league in receptions this year and came in second in receiving yards. Heck, he has the most catches of anyone for the last five years. And I’m pretty sure he’s only tied for the most 100-catch seasons in NFL history (with Cris Carter, what a scrub). You’re right. I’m really going out on a limb putting my trust in a guy filling two slots in the top-five of seasons with the most catches ever recorded in the league.

Mike: Well now we’re getting off topic. I’m looking at the match-ups here and I think I like the Giants. Not least of all because Ballard’s last name reminds me a whole lot of Pollard’s.

Nick: Nice phonetic analysis. I hope that sort of thinking gives Gronk cause to go ‘Yo Soy Fiesta’ on the Giants.

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