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When the Indianapolis Colts square off against the New England Patriots on Sunday night, they’ll face quite a defensive dilemma.
While I’m against Vontae Davis lining up against Gronkowski for most of the evening, this is the one situation where with Gronkowski isolated on the outside, that the Colts may consider rolling the dice with their talented young lockdown cornerback. However, as seen in Example 2, if the Patriots are going to isolate Gronkowski on the outside like a wide receiver, this is one of the few instances where it may be ideal to match-up Vontae Davis against him.
The speed bump lies in that the Colts have to show some flexibility with their defense, which remains unclear if they’re willing to do.
Unfortunately for the Colts, their defense lacks a dynamic defender, who is both big and fast enough to cover Gronkowski at either the linebacker or safety position. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription), his +3.5 rating in coverage effectively places him as the 9th best ILB overall in that regard. However, instead of leaving Freeman one-on-one with Gronkowski, the Colts’ defense shadows Gronkowski with a safety over the top.

Although Davis is 30 pounds lighter than Gronkowski, unlike Freeman, he offers superior speed and ball skills.
No Colts’ linebacker is athletic enough to defend Gronkowski one-on-one on the outside without safety help. Vontae Davis has predominantly aligned on the right side of the Colts’ defensive formation regardless of the opposing wide receiver match-up all season. However, even Ray Lewis in his prime likely would have struggled defending Gronkowski one-on-one.
Unfortunately, this leaves a Colts cornerback (bottom) potentially on an island, one-on-one in man coverage without much safety help.
This may put more responsibility and pressure on your cornerbacks with less safety help and one-on-one man coverage in individual match-ups, but it seems like a role that Vontae Davis would still very well flourish in and quite frankly, he has all season. The Colts can then use his safety help instead, to help better shadow Gronkowski over the middle with either Mike Adams or Sergio Brown.

While Davis may get beat from a strength standpoint, he still boasts superior speed and ball skills to any Colts’ linebacker.
D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman have remained relatively fixed on their ILB sides.
This may be wishful thinking from a defensive strategy standpoint, but it stands to make the most sense logically.

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