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Colts Face a Huge Test in Patriots Tight End Rob Gronkowski

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The Colts aren't very good at covering opposing tight ends. The Patriots have one of the best tight ends in the NFL in Rob Gronkowski. What does that mean? There's a big mismatch, and it'll present a big test for the Colts' defense.

Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE

If you've been paying attention to the Colts this year, you'll have noticed that one of their biggest weaknesses on defense comes as they attempt to cover opposing tight ends.

The Colts really don't have a good answer when facing the position.  As we know, tight ends always present a bit of a mismatch for teams, because if you put a defensive back on them the TE is bigger and if you put a linebacker on them the TE is faster.  For the Colts, this mismatch is very much magnified and ever since week one the opposing tight end has been a reason for concern.

On the season, the Colts have allowed 49 receptions (on 67 targets) for 577 yards and 7 touchdowns, allowing an average of 11.78 yards per catch.  According to Football Outsiders, the Colts are 29th in the league in covering tight ends.  According to ESPN's standard fantasy football scoring, the Colts have allowed the fourth most fantasy football points to tight ends.  Pretty much whichever way you look at it, the Colts struggle to cover the tight end.

Colts Defense vs. Tight Ends in 2014
Receptions Yards Avg. TD Targets
DEN 8 112 14 3 9
PHI 4 86 21.5 0 6
JAX 1 8 8 0 1
TEN 5 84 16.8 1 7
BAL 5 70 14 0 7
HOU 1 7 7 0 1
CIN 10 48 4.8 0 12
PIT 7 112 16 1 8
NYG 4 25 6.25 1 8
9 games 49 577 11.78 7 67

The Colts have faced good tight ends this year.  There was Denver's Julius Thomas, Philly's Zach Ertz, Pittsburgh's Heath Miller, and New York's Larry Donnell.  But they face easily their toughest test of the season so far when they face New England's Rob Gronkowski this Sunday night in a big matchup with the Patriots.

On the year, Gronk has 49 catches for 663 yards and 8 touchdowns through nine games.  In 59 career games, he has caught 275 passes for 3,918 yards and 50 touchdowns.  He has 100+ yards receiving in three different games this year and in three of the last five, including each of the past two games.  He has caught a touchdown pass in six of their nine games.  And in their impressive five-game turnaround since that Monday night meltdown against the Chiefs, the Patriots haven't targeted Gronk less than nine times in a game.  So regardless of the opponent, the Patriots have realized the weapon they have in Rob Gronkowski and are utilizing him as such.  The fact that the Colts suck at covering tight ends?  Even more reason to expect a full dose of Gronk this Sunday night.

So what are the Colts going to do?  Unfortunately, I think they're going to continue to do what they've been doing, only this time with more of a central focus on Gronk.  The team doesn't really have any good options because they don't have a player who can really match up with tight ends.  The Colts have tried putting safeties there and they've been beat.  The Colts have tried putting linebackers there and they've been beat.  With an incredibly talented player in Gronk, even teams well-equipped to play against tight ends tend to struggle.  The Colts' best plan is to key in on Rob Gronkowski and limit his effectiveness.  He'll get his catches and targets, but limiting their damage could be key.  Daring Tom Brady to beat you elsewhere normally doesn't work, but considering the Colts' defensive strengths lie in their cornerbacks the Colts should focus primarily on Gronk and limiting the damage he does while daring Brady to beat their corners in man coverage.  Let's just hope Vontae Davis is preparing for Tom Brady again this week like he was in week seven last year.