Preparing for Rob Gronkowski: A look at how the Eagles fared against tight ends in 2017
The Philadelphia Eagles, still riding with the underdog mentality that has allowed them to stun two NFC powerhouses, face arguably their toughest task yet against one of the greatest coaches and quarterbacks of all-time. Backup quarterback Nick Foles turned in a masterful performance last week against the Minnesota Vikings’ “number one” defense, but it was the Eagles’ defense (sans the first drive) that was the difference maker last Sunday night.
In order to take down the New England Patriots, the Eagles defense must play with a similar level of tenacity and effort. One thing the Patriots have that the Vikings did not, is the leagues most dominant tight end: Rob Gronkowski. Jim Schwartz will be spending the remainder of this week trying to come up with unique and creative ways to guard Tom Brady’s greatest receiving threat.
All things considered, the Eagles were a dominant bunch against tight ends in 2017, but there are few players that possess the combination of speed, power, and athleticism as Rob Gronkowski. Lets take a look at few moments the Eagles defensestruggled against other elite tight ends this season:
Jordan Reed battled injuries all through the 2017 season. It was a tale of two games for the Eagles defense when guarding Reed this season. In Week 1, Reed was bottled up for just 36 yards on five catches. Week 7 was a different story, as Reed broke free for 64 yards and two touchdowns. Reed was able to generate space against breakout cornerback Patrick Robinson on a hard slant route from inside the five-yard line. His second came on a post route right over the middle in front of Rodney McCleod and others.
Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Alex Smith was able to have one of the best seasons of his career, in large part due to the dominant play of Travis Kelce. The Pro-Bowl tight end had one of his best games of the season against the Eagles during Week 2. Kelce was able to find soft spots over the middle all game and made safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Jaylen Watkins look silly on sideline routes. He capped off his day by taking a shovel pass to the end zone.
Nothing went the Eagles way when they ventured to Seattle on Sunday Night Football. Russell Wilsons’ elusiveness was on full display, as he ways able to lead his team to an upset victory. One of Wilson’s three touchdowns was to former Saints’ All-Pro Jimmy Graham. Graham was able to box out safety Malcolm Jenkins in the short corner of the end zone for a tough grab on a fade route. Graham was made a non-factor by the Eagles defense after this play.
The Good News
In those three games, the Eagles defense allowed four touchdowns to the tight end position. In the other 13 games in 2017, the NFL’s number one defense allowed just one. Gronk is an unbelievable talent, but having Ronald Darby shadow Brandin Cooks and Patrick Robinson eliminate Danny Amendola’s production in the slot should allow for the birds to double-team Gronk most of the night.
While acknowledging Malcolm Jenkins is still a great talent at the safety position, the Eagles just can’t simply stick him one-on-one against Gronk. Similarly sized and skilled players have been able to exploit the matchup. Expect tons of nickel and dime packages on Sunday due to the fact that the Eagles are lacking skill at the middle linebacker position.
Jim Schwartz will be able to use Jenkins, along with Jalen Mills on the outside and a combination of Nigel Bradham or Mychal Kendricks on the inside to make things tough for #87 this Sunday. It is worth noting that we still are unaware if there will be any lasting symptoms from the concussion he suffered on a hit from Jacksonville Jaguars’ safety Barry Church.