How to defend New England's TEs

Why the Cover 2 is the most effective way to slow down Patriots' TE combo

Originally Published: April 18, 2013
By Matt Bowen | Special to ESPN Insider
Tom Brady Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesIt's tough to defend Rob Gronkowski and Tom Brady in the red zone.

Rob Gronkowski, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates. Those are just a few of the premier tight ends in the NFL who have reshaped how the game is played inside the 20-yard line. They are matchup players who give offenses formation flexibility and consistently test the end zone.

Look at quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, an up-tempo offense that can game plan creatively because of the skill set they have at the tight end position with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. They are difficult to stop because they can use multiple alignments to get the matchups they want in the red zone.

So how do you limit the tight end position and protect the end zone as a defense?

Let's examine a variety of base coverage looks that NFL defenses show on tape inside of the 20-yard line and break down why I would lean on Cover 2 against some of the Patriots' top red zone route combinations.

Cover 3 (three-deep, four-under): Tear it out of the playbook inside of the 20-yard line. Just dump it. Along with zone pressure (rush five, drop six), single-high safety defenses that rely on a zone shell are too easy to light up in the red zone.

Matt Bowen

Special to ESPN Insider
Former NFL safety Matt Bowen is a veteran of four teams over seven seasons, and now provides analysis for a number of media outlets.