Indianapolis Colts tight end Eric Ebron is a weapon the New England Patriots will need a special plan to stop.
Eric Ebron has usually received attention of the negative kind since he entered the NFL in 2014. Being called a bust as a first-round flop for the Detroit Lions won’t do much for a player’s ego.
Fortunately, Ebron is due an ego boost in Week 5, when he should receive plenty of attention from the New England Patriots. The Pats will be looking to negate Ebron on Thursday Night Football, something the Indianapolis Colts tight end should take as a compliment.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots D’ needs a special plan to stop a player who has been transformed since leaving the Lions this offseason. He’s rapidly becoming a feature of head coach Frank Reich’s creative schemes, as well as a primary target for quarterback Andrew Luck in the red zone.
Ebron snagged his third touchdown in four games during Sunday’s 34-31 overtime loss to the Houston Texans:
The play was a prime example of the confidence Reich has in Ebron. He’s having fun moving the versatile 25-year-old all over formations pre-snap.
Confusion among the Texans illustrated how defenses are having a devil of a time tracking Ebron close to the goal-line.
Luck’s also connecting with Ebron before the Indy offense crosses the 20. The two have combined for 17 receptions and 150 yards. Ebron is averaging a solid 8.8 yards per grab.
Belichick will be aware of the numbers. He’ll also be aware Luck’s premier wideout, Ty. Hilton, suffered a hamstring injury against the Texans and is already a doubt for Thursday, per Sports Illustrated‘s Kaelen Jones.
Luck will surely target Ebron more often if Hilton is out. It’s why Belichick needs to start crafting ways to stop No. 85.
Previous meetings against the Colts have seen New England double Hilton and lock up Luck’s other receivers in man coverage. Doubling Ebron is an option, particularly underneath, where 6’3″, 250-pound linebacker Kyle Van Noy has the size to handle Ebron’s 6’4″, 253 frame.
Jamming him at the line is a must, particularly in clutch and red-zone situations. Van Noy doesn’t have the speed to stay with Ebron beyond the initial bump, though.
The Patriots could opt to leave safety Patrick Chung isolated on Ebron. They would still have a player physical enough to make the tight end uncomfortable, but one also able to stay with him in space.
A problem with moving a safety over Ebron is how it would wreck the Pats’ two-deep looks. New England loves to disguise coverage, and a lot of those disguises come out of a two-deep shell.
The best bet will be for Belichick to put his top cornerback over Ebron. Stephon Gilmore is an ideal candidate to shadow the physical “move” tight end because of his comfort playing press coverage and his 6-foot-1, 202-pound size.
Gilmore should also be fresh after a relatively light day’s work in Sunday’s 38-7 win over AFC East rivals the Miami Dolphins:
There is precedent for Belichick using a cornerback to shut down a dangerous tight end. He put Aqib Talib over Jimmy Graham for a Week 6 matchup against the New Orleans Saints in 2013.
Talib, a corner of similar physical dimensions to Gilmore, held Graham without a catch.
The ploy has already worked on Ebron. Defending Super Bowl champions the Philadelphia Eagles had success using cornerbacks against him at the goal-line in Week 2:
Belichick can trust Gilmore to keep Ebron quiet while his other corners, Jason McCourty and Jonathan Jones, handle Luck’s other receivers, Ryan Grant and Chester Rogers.
McCourty has already caught the eye of his coach:
Rogers and the underrated Grant can make their share of plays, but the Colts won’t win if they’re catching most of Luck’s passes.
It will be a different story if Ebron is allowed to run free.