Ravens have hands full with Hernandez

Ravens have hands full with Hernandez
January 17, 2013, 10:30 pm
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The Ravens won't have Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to worry about this weekend, as the All-Pro is out for the postseason after reinjuring his arm in the Divisional Round game against Houston last week.

The Ravens, however, will definitely have to worry about the other half the Patriots' two-tight end monster, Aaron Hernandez. 

Hernandez has been bothered by an ankle sprain much of the season and missed six games, including the Week 3 game against the Ravens. He finished the season with 51 catches for 483 yards and five touchdowns, numbers down sharply from a year ago (79-910, 7 TDs).

Still, the former fourth-round draft pick -- Hernandez was taken one pick before the Ravens selected Dennis Pitta -- had six catches for 85 yards against the Texans last week and figures to play a major role  in the Patriots' Gronk-less offense.

The 6-1, 245-pound Hernandez,  could represent a major matchup problem. Do the Ravens stick a linebacker on him? Do they try to use safety Bernard Pollard, who gives away about 20 pounds in that battle?

Linebacker Ray Lewis has been a force in two playoff games, making a team-high 30 tackles in two games. But he has been a step slow at times in pass coverage, and teams know it. It's more likely the Ravens will try to jam Hernandez at the line and then use Dannell Ellerbe in coverage.

Coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday that Ellerbe "understands coverages. He knows how to match different route patterns and progressions in each coverage. He’s athletic, he can run, he’s got good ball skills. He’s just a really good coverage linebacker.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, though, suggested Thursday that the Ravens need to mix up their coverages and their schemes. Get predictable, Pees said, and Tom Brady will make you pay.

"You can’t go in there and say, ‘The whole game, OK, I’m going to put a strong safety on this guy.’ " Pees said. "That’s not going to take Brady very long to figure that one out, nor is it going to be the same if we end up putting a linebacker on him all the time. The key is to let them have to figure it out after the ball is snapped, who’s on him, and then you just can’t keep doing the same thing over and over with Tom, or he’ll gash you.”