The New England Patriots dynamic two tight end tandem of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez took the league by storm last year. As the Patriots head into Baltimore this weekend, all indications point to one part of the duo sitting out.
Hernandez is reportedly on crutches and in a boot after suffering an ankle injury in the Patriots loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday. While predictably tight-lipped head coach Bill Belichek has not given any word on the Hernandez injury, ESPN reports that the tight end will not play Sunday night and will likely be sidelined into October. The versatile Hernandez, a tight end on paper, can line up for New England in the backfield, in the slot, or at wide receiver. His presence on the field is a nightmare for opposing defenses and opens up opportunities for his more widely heralded partner in crime, Gronkowski. Not only will the Patriots miss the unique set of skills Hernandez brings to the table, but Belichek's two tight end set that so troubles opposing defenses is based on having, well, two tight ends. In the wake of Hernandez' injury, the team signed tight end Kellen Winslow, but to expect him to immediately fit into the system that Hernandez and Gronkowski perfected over the course of last year in unreasonable. He has neither Hernandez' talent nor his experience in this offense. With Hernandez down, the New England offense will have a more ordinary feel to it. In addition to signing Winslow, the Patriots brought back wide receiver Deion Branch, a familiar target for Brady. The fact that Winslow and Branch were available at this time in the season doesn't inspire confidence though. A more traditional offense and a less effective Gronkowski would be welcome developments for the Ravens defense. With Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs on the PUP list, the Ravens defense has given up an average of 404 yards per game. They are ranked 27th in the league in total defense. Ray Lewis, for one, isn't concerned about the rough start. “We always say 'Find us at the end of the year and you know where we're going to be,” Lewis said when asked about the poor defensive statistics. This week, Hernandez' absence puts the Ravens defense in a position to move one step closer to where they want to be.