But that’s obviously an oversimplification of the matchup. The fact is the Hawks are going to focus their entire defense on all of New England’s offense, and Chancellor will interchange with K.J. Wright and other teammates in coverage against the Patriots’ best receiving target.
The Seahawks allowed just 17 passing touchdowns all season — second fewest in the NFL behind Buffalo’s 16. But 11 of those went to tight ends, making some think the Hawks have a weakness in that part of their defense.
They obviously had problems early in the season, when Chancellor was not healthy and they went against some of the league’s top quarterback-tight end combinations: San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates hooked up for three touchdowns in a win over Seattle in Week 2; Denver’s Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme also scored in their overtime loss to Seattle in Week 3; and Dallas’ Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar each scored in their win over Seattle in Week 6.
That’s seven of the 11 TDs they allowed all season.
In their last 10 games, the Hawks have given up just one score to a tight end — Philadelphia’s Zach Ertz in Week 14. But they also have faced only one good QB-TE combo in that time: Carolina’s Cam Newton and Greg Olsen.
Gronkowski is one of the league’s very best tight ends — he matched Gates and Thomas for the TE lead with 12 touchdowns, tied for fourth among all receivers.
Gronkowski had the second-most targets (130) and catches (82) on the team behind Julian Edelman (135 and 92). Among the top six receivers, he had the highest yards per catch, at 13.7.
The Seahawks aren’t going to ignore the Patriots’ other receivers just to shut down Gronkowski, but they also know the significance of containing him — as they did in 2012, when they held him to six catches for 61 yards and no scores in a 24-23 win over the Patriots.
“I definitely feel you have to pay a lot of attention to Gronk because he opens those guys up,” linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “Everybody pays so much attention to him and it frees those guys up. I feel like we have the athletes to match up with them very well.”
Chancellor and Wright will be the key defenders, as they have been in most tight end coverages all season.
Wright said the thing that differentiates Gronkowski from most tight ends is the 6-foot-6 player’s physicality.
“I believe he’s more physical. You see some tight ends out here that are not as physical as Gronkowski,” Wright said. “He does a good job in getting into you, using his body, giving you a little shove here and there. He does a good job of getting open. … He’s not like anyone else out there.”
Wright also said Gronkowski is reminiscent of Tony Gonzalez, who killed the Seahawks in the playoff loss in Atlanta to end the 2012 season.
“He reminds me of Tony Gonzalez with just his finesse and just always finding a way to get yards after the catch,” Wright said. “We know that he’s a good player and, like I said earlier, you’ve got to make sure that wherever he’s out on the football field, keep your eyes on him, because the (ball probably) is coming his way. When he does catch them, we’ve got to hit him, got to tackle him to get him down and make sure he doesn’t get those yards after the catch.”
When it comes to that Gronk vs. Bam Bam Kam matchup, the Hawks are putting their money on Chancellor, of course.
“It would be a classic matchup,” Wright said. “Our best against their best. Of course I’ve got my money on Kam. He’s an All-Pro, he’s the captain of our defense. I expect him to win every battle.”
Richard Sherman said, “I’ll be sitting there with popcorn.”
Wagner said the key is for the Seahawks to make sure to hit Gronk.
“I think we just need to be physical back with him — make sure we get our hands on him,” Wagner said. “He does a good job and he likes physicality, so he’s going to put his hands on us. It’s going to be fun. When you go against a tight end like that, it’s always fun because he’s not shying away from contact and neither are we. We definitely are going to have fun with this matchup.”