How Gronkowski Beat Denver: What Ya Gonna Do?

Rob Gronkowski turned in a spectacular performance in New England’s victory over the Denver Broncos. In our fourpart passing preview we highlighted how Denver needed to be physical with Gronkowski to deny him a free release off the line of scrimmage. Their reluctance to employ that concept on Sunday, coupled with creative design and his tremendous athletic ability, led to a two-part recap of Gronk’s Big Night.

The Freak

On the second play of the 4th quarter the Patriots faced 1st down and 10 at the Denver 21-yard line. Brady is under center using 11 personnel, with Rob Gronkowski on a wing to the right side of the formation. Denver’s nickel personnel shows Cover 2 before the snap:

When you are simply a freak of nature an easy path off the line of scrimmage does help:

But the ability to complete the play with a catch like this makes you otherworldly:

Yes, on his circus catch Denver gave him another free release off the line of scrimmage. Look, I had to include this catch in an article because it is a “whoa” moment for every fan of the NFL – a reminder that while great plays are made every week, only one or two truly impressive “whoa” moments happen a season. Gronk soy fiesta.

The Shift

Creative shifting put Gronkowski in position for the subsequent short touchdown reception. The offense faces a 1st and goal at the Denver 1-yard line. The Patriots put their heavy 23 personnel on the field and Gronkowski is on the left edge of the line:

Denver sets up with their goal-line package using six defensive linemen, four linebackers and only one defensive back, T.J. Ward (circled in black):

Just prior to the snap the TE shifts outside and pass rush specialist Von Miller follows him:

The LB sets himself to cut off the inside, shifting his stance and playing as if he knows the play will be a slant:

Yet, it doesn’t matter. Gronkowski beats Miller to the inside by using a vicious stutter-step move:

With inside leverage on an overmatched opponent, the TE is open for the easy touchdown toss:

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By shifting Gronkowski outside against this defensive personnel, Josh McDaniels isolates the TE on a defender unfamiliar with outside man coverage. Even with his inside alignment Miller gets beaten on the slant route due to the terrific move from Gronkowski. He is a beast, able to do things other players cannot. He makes excellent football players look like amateurs. He is Gronk, and if you give him a free release he will run wild on you.


Against an offense that works on timing, jamming receivers not only complicates the task for the individual receiver but alters the quarterback’s expectations. If a potential target is not located where the QB expects him to be on a given play, the signal-caller likely continues his progression. Denver chose not to jam on nearly every play Sunday, and it cost them dearly. With freedom off the line the TE was quickly into the secondary and in position for big plays. This, coupled with the creativity shown by Josh McDaniels to isolate Gronkowski against Von Miller outside, led to a huge night for the offense and the tight end.

All video and images courtesy and NFL Game Rewind.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

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