When you think Baltimore Ravens, two players typically jump to mind: Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
You can bet they’re on the minds of Patriots coaches and every player on offense. The Ravens’ tandem on defense has wreaked havoc on the NFL for years, and has done more than enough to earn the respect of Bill Belichick.
“[Reed] probably covers more field back there as a single safety than most teams can cover with two,” Belichick said. “He’s got great instincts, he’s a tremendous player. Ray Lewis, everything he brings to the game, his playmaking ability, his leadership, his experience, his ability to get people around him to play better, both by his communication and anticipation and leadership and football savvy on the field.
“Those two guys, it would be really hard, I think, to put anybody even in their class, let alone above them. They’re tremendous players with tremendous careers. Can’t say I’ve ever coached against anybody better than Ed Reed in the secondary.”
When it’s all said and done, coaches could be saying similar things regarding the Patriots tight end tandem of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.
“The Boston TE Party” — a nickname Gronkowski likes for the two second-year tight ends — has had a huge season for the Pats, combining for 169 receptions, 2,237 reception yards, and 24 touchdowns in the regular season.
In one game against the Ravens last season, Hernandez and Gronkowski were kept quiet. Hernandez made four catches for 61 yards while Gronk had just one catch.
Lewis made nine tackles in that game — one on Hernandez. Reed missed the game due to injury.
So which tandem will prevail? The proven, savvy, hard-hitting defensive duo that Belichick calls perhaps the best to ever play, or the young, powerful, multifaceted tight end duo that seem to be revolutionizing the position?
Obviously, it’s not that simple. The Ravens defense goes much deeper than those two — with Tom Brady’s favorite, linebacker Terrell Suggs, coming off a monster season with a career-high 14.0 sacks.
Nose tackle Haloti Ngata is another player Brady must beware of.
But that staunch Ravens ‘D’ will have its hands full. If it isn’t the tight ends, it’s Wes Welker — the NFL leader in receptions this season — or Deion Branch on the outside.
“[The Ravens] have to pick and choose,” Branch said. “I think with our offense, the things that we do: We do a lot of different things. The defense has to figure out what is their game plan, what are they planning on going in and focusing on.”