Ravens can stay tight with Pats tight ends

David Butler II/US Presswire

The Ravens may have the defense to handle the Patriots' two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 2,237 receiving yards and 24 touchdown grabs this season, with Gronkowski setting the single-season touchdown record for tight ends (17).

The duo have transformed the New England Patriots offense, which in 2009 used multi-tight end formations on 38 percent of its offensive plays. Over the past two seasons, the Patriots have used such formations 72 percent of the time, the most in the NFL.

The Baltimore Ravens may be able to keep them in check by staying in their base 3-4 defense. This season, Patriots opponents have used five or more defensive backs 75 percent of the time when the Patriots go multi-tight end. When all other NFL teams go two tight ends, defenses go to nickel and dime sets just 15 percent of the time.

Patriots 2-TE Offense This Season
By Number of DBs on Field

Regular Season and Playoffs

When teams do stick to the base, the Patriots have been far more likely to run and haven’t been as efficient.

The Ravens kept four or fewer defensive backs on field for 84.5 percent of plays with two tight ends on the field this season, allowing just three touchdowns (2 rushing, 1 passing) from those sets.

The Ravens can’t approach both tight ends the same way. Gronkowski is New England’s obvious red-zone threat; 24 of his 30 career touchdowns (including playoffs) have come inside the red zone.

Tom Brady has targeted Gronkowski 24 times in the end zone the past two seasons with just four of those passes falling incomplete. No other quarterback-receiver combo with at least 10 attempts has a higher completion percentage (83.3 percent) on such throws.

The Ravens have allowed only five red zone passing touchdowns this season, half as many as the next lowest team. They’ve also allowed just 25 percent of end-zone passes to be completed, fourth-best in the NFL.

Aaron Hernandez by Position This Season

With Hernandez, versatility should be the Ravens’ main concern.

Hernandez has lined up all over the field, taking snaps attached to the line like most tight ends, but also lining up like a wide receiver, fullback and a halfback. In the Divisional Playoffs, Hernandez even took handoffs.

The Ravens have allowed 667 receiving yards to tight ends this season, third-fewest in the NFL. They’ve been particularly stingy to tight ends lining up as wide receivers -- only 199 of the 677 yards allowed to tight ends came from players lining up out wide.

If the Ravens can continue their success against tight ends and keep Gronkowski and Hernandez out of the end zone, they may find themselves back in the Super Bowl.