Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski’s ridiculous one-hand catch made possible by a super-creative scheme
*Tis the time of year for Top 10 football lists, but here at FBF, we aimed to offer you something a bit more substantial than the typical ranking.
While the dazzling end result often grabs our focus, there’s typically an underlying factor that paved the way for the extraordinary – the catalyst that sets things in motion.
We’re unveiling the Top 10 plays from the last NFL season, with a focus on the finer details that contributed to the making of these remarkable highlights.
We’ve witnessed several instances of smaller players (relatively speaking) making incredible catches in the countdown so far.
What sets Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski’s Week 9 catch against the Broncos apart is that it showcases much of the same athleticism and focus as the others but executed by a significantly larger individual.
Athletes with frames as imposing as Gronk’s aren’t typically expected to perform such feats!
However, what truly elevates Rob’s reception to one of the top plays of 2014 isn’t just that he’s executing it and that the catch itself was so heavily contested.
Despite the disruption, he still executed his role flawlessly.
As Gronk pivoted to reach back and extend away from his body, Pro Bowl Denver safety TJ Ward aggressively approached him, sweeping his left hand across Rob’s face and making contact with the arm, attempting to secure the catch.
Maneuvering a 270-pound body mid-air, maintaining focus on the ball amidst disruptive contact, and securing it with the very arm under collision?
Impressive. Truly impressive. The high level of difficulty unquestionably earned this catch a spot among the elite plays.
As impressive as the athleticism was, this countdown series is genuinely focused on uncovering the subtle brilliance within the jaw-dropping highlights, and this play is brimming with them.
Gronk snatches the ball from the air amidst a tightly packed group of defenders deep in the red zone.
The passing lanes in this area are incredibly narrow. Given the usual attention paid to a red zone threat like Gronk, that window would never have materialized as it did without some exceptionally clever play design to serve as a diversion.
Upon reviewing the tape, what stood out as a former defender was how challenging this play would have been to thwart due to its strategic construction.
Every element of the play – from the pre-snap shift to the blocking scheme presented by the offensive line – strongly suggests a “RUN” for the defense.
Typically, offenses aim to mislead defenses with cues that indicate something other than what is transpiring.
In this play, there were three significant decoys. Linebackers are compelled to respect the run signal when it’s executed this convincingly.
This manipulation on the second level of the defense created the opportunity for Gronk to execute the remarkable play.
In straightforward terms, if this had been a dropback pass, or if there hadn’t been as many deceptive elements in the blocking scheme, there would have been too much congestion in the middle of the field for Rob to execute this catch.
This play simply wouldn’t have materialized. Gronk likely would have been impeded, either redirected or obstructed in his route, compelling quarterback Tom Brady to seek an alternative option.
The play action effectively diverts attention just long enough to distract the defenders, granting Gronk a fleeting moment of freedom.
If any of the three shorter defenders had initially focused on Gronk, this play wouldn’t have unfolded the way it did.
Brady would have been forced to target another option. However, they were effectively misled by the offense, buying that crucial moment for Gronk to execute the jaw-dropping highlight.
As extraordinary as the catch was, the setup was equally remarkable. The defense never stood a chance.
It’s not typical for big, trench-dwelling players to accomplish what Rob did.
Moreover, having so many visual cues indicating a run on the interior part of the line should never lead to one of the most impressive catches of the NFL season.
This play was something special, exhibiting football brilliance on multiple levels.