As defensive-minded head coaches Mike Zimmer of the Vikings and Bill Belichick of the Patriots spend time preparing for this week's game, they will both have to contend with a similar offensive threat on the opposing team – a talented pass-catching and field-stretching tight end who poses matchup problems.
For the Vikings, that player is Kyle Rudolph. A second-round pick of the Vikings in 2011, Rudolph made a name for himself in the NFL during the 2012 season when he caught nine touchdown passes, second-most by a Vikings tight end a season. Following the 2012 season, Rudolph won Pro Bowl MVP honors, as well. Rudolph missed half of last season with an injury, but came back during the offseason and hit the ground running in Norv Turner's offense. He was a standout player this preseason and caught a touchdown pass in Week 1.
The Patriots offense features Rob Gronkowski, who has also dealt with injuries recently but who is also back and ready to contribute in 2014. As Rudolph did, Gronkowski found the end zone in Week 1. He burst onto the scene in 2011 when he was future Hall of Famer Tom Brady's favorite target, catching 90 passes for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns. With a rare combination of catching ability, size and speed, Gronkowski outmatches most defenders who line up against him and he's a load to bring down after the catch.
The tight end position has changed dramatically in the NFL in recent seasons, and matchup nightmares such as Gronkowski and Rudolph are why. Sunday's Vikings-Patriots game provides an opportunity for these two skilled pass catchers to show why they are such effective weapons in today's NFL.
Here's a closer look at the similarities between the Vikings Rudolph and the Patriots Gronkowski: