According to Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski’s most effective – and most destructive – play call came from a Peyton Manning offense.
A huge part of a player’s offensive output comes from the plays/scheming they can be fit into. Somewhat surprisingly though, one of the signature plays for retired star tight end Rob Gronkowski was actually a Peyton Manning special.
On Friday night, NFL Network aired their finale of the “NFL 100 All-Time Team” miniseries, in which NFL historians and experts chose the best players across the last century of the NFL, while simultaneously taking into consideration the generation the players were active in.
The two quarterbacks selected from the 21st century were Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, friendly rivals that reigned over the league for more than a decade.
As fiercely as they competed with each other on the field, the two QBs have endless mutual respect for one another off the field. Featured as a guest on the program, Brady reverently discussed Manning’s abilities and the memories they shared during their careers.
One specific story revealed a secret about how TE Rob Gronkowski (who was also selected to the NFL 100 All-Time Team) was utilized in the Patriots offense.
Brady talked about an offseason meeting he had with Peyton Manning in 2011, where they discussed offensive scheming and strategies in a way only two elite quarterbacks could. One play-call the Colts used at the time caught Brady’s eye as a strategy the Patriots could use moving forward to help their tight ends.
“They had a protection, the counter hot protection. It was basically a trap pass,” Brady told the panel, made up of Coach Bill Belichick, Rich Eisen, and Cris Collinsworth. TB12 explained:
"“Sometimes they would pull the front-side guard, sometimes they’d pull the center, and sometimes they’d pull the off-side guard. They would run a play-action and they would throw a couple combinations off it. Well, after this meeting I had with him [Manning] down in Tennessee, I came back – Bill O’Brien was the coordinator – and I said, ‘Billy, we got to put this protection in.’ It was the lockout year, we ended up putting this protection in and I swear to God, off of that action we do a lot things. We absolutely call that protection at least one or two times a game against them and Rob Gronkowski has probably 50 percent of his offensive production on that play. So to use that play against him (Manning) as well as to have basically Rob become a dominant player in the league off of that particular play is thanks to Peyton Manning.”"
For those who can’t visualize it, pulling guards is when an offensive lineman backs up and runs a direction to block a different player like a linebacker. The rest of the linemen shift down and cover different players, and ideally, the defensive line is thrown off by the changeup. What this play usually does is set up for a directional run; the guard that’s pulled often runs ahead of the running back.
However, sometimes it’s used for a quick pass, as the pulled guard can block for the quarterback’s weak spot and anyone in the area opened up by their departure doesn’t have time to pounce for a sack.
In the Patriots’ case, a guard would be pulled to block the man Gronkowski would have blocked, as Gronk is now running a route. With a pulled guard, the defensive line figures it might be seeing a run out of the backfield, and they follow the O-line’s flow.
As soon as Gronk gets about 10 yards downfield (which doesn’t take long), Brady would fire it to him and let the monster tight end do the rest. It was efficient, it would shred the Pittsburgh Steelers in particular, and it was the basis for Gronkowski’s record-setting seasons shortly after.
So, while Peyton Manning did deliver a few crushing blows to New England’s seasons, the information he shared with Brady helped the Patriots offense blossom. It’s fitting that as Brady passes Peyton’s all-time TD record, he thanks him for the piece of advice he used to help reach it.