Win or lose, expect Deon Grant to play a huge role Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS — Earlier I wrote that the rather obvious key to this game was the matchup between the New York pass rush and Tom Brady and his offensive line. But I qualified that with the important yet also probably obvious idea that the there are literally hundreds of smaller factors that go into deciding who comes out on top of every football game.
If there’s a 1-A in terms of game themes to watch, it’ll probably be another that takes place with the Pats offense and the Giants defense on the field. Because while we fully expect the Giants to get pressure, we also fully expect them to have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
The tandem — a combined 12-foot-8 and 510 pounds — has been unstoppable for much of this season, forcing opposing defenses to pick their poison, with Wes Welker there to stomp on throats when needed.
They present a matchup nightmare. That’s something we’ve heard all week, so it loses its luster. But I personally have never seen a duo of tight ends quite like this one.
So, how do you stop them? You don’t. Let me rephrase. How do you slow them down? Well, safety Deon Grant implied to me that focusing mainly on one of the two might be fruitful. He wasn’t meaning to suggest that the defense should ignore one or the other, but instead pointed to what happened in their Week 9 matchup, when Hernandez was held in check while Gronk had a strong outing.
“I don’t wanna give it away because they might be listening,” Grant half-joked. “I don’t wanna give it to you, you might give it to them. But we’re going to mix it up on them and throw them off balance, regardless of who’s playing.”
What he means by that is Gronkowski’s status is up in the air. The Giants have delivered the company line all week regarding Gronk’s high-ankle sprain, insisting that they’re preparing for him to be 100 percent. And that’s undoubtedly the case. But he won’t be 100 percent. Should that impact the way in which the defense plays these tight ends?
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said that nothing will change if Gronk is there, “because if he’s on the field, we’re going to respect him enough that he’s 100 percent (to us).”
It’s not often you see a tight end get used as a decoy, but this may very well be one of those cases. Send an injured Gronkowski out there, and if the Giants are willing to continue to drape him with defenders, then you’re winning the chess match by freeing up Hernandez and Welker while Big Blue’s defense essentially focuses on a pylon.
Or send a ready Gronkowski out there and play rope-a-dope until a safety or linebacker bites and allows him to spring free.
This is why football is a fascinating head game.
Grant, who played a large role against Hernandez and Gronkowski in the regular-season game, is quite confident in his team’s ability to succeed again. In fact, he’s also quite confident that the dynamic tight end duo isn’t all that special. I asked him if he’d ever seen a duo like this one.
“I have to say yes. San Fran has two tight ends that are very talented, Vernon Davis and (Delanie Walker),” he said. “They’re a Grant tandem. Washington also has two good ones, so we definitely have faced (duos like that) in our own conference.”
But surely he doesn’t put Davis and Walker and/or Chris Cooley and Fred Davis on the same level as Hernandez and Gronk. Right?
“I would,” he said. “The first duo beat us. Washington beat us two times this year. We actually beat New England. So you have to put them up there with them.”
Terrible logic, I know. And enough to make you wonder if Grant and his cohorts are underestimating the abilities of the duo they’re about to face. Confidence and success surely have a relationship, but are these Giants too confident? The key for Grant is that they did enough in that Week 9 game to win, which is a much better philosophy than the one above.
“If we stop them, we stop them. If we don’t, we don’t,” he said. “Did we stop them the last game we played them?”
My response: Not really, but I suppose you kept them from exploding.
“But we won.”
The Giants were burnt twice by Vernon Davis in the conference title game, and they’ve had some trouble with tight ends from time to time this year. That said, they’re super healthy now, and they might be physical enough to once again avoid a tight end explosion on Sunday.