From Arrowhead Stadium
Over the years, Todd Heap has been on the fringe of the list of the top two or three tight ends in the NFL.
It was always Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez and guys like Jason Witten and Chris Cooley.
None of those guys has a thing on a healthy Todd Heap. After missing three games and being shutout in another because of a thigh injury, Heap came into Sunday’s first-round game in the playoffs in pretty good shape.
Heap was feeling well enough to torment the Chiefs defense, something he did all day long. The 10-year veteran caught 10 passes for 108 yards and was always open any time that QB Joe Flacco needed somebody to throw the ball too.
“It was huge,” Flacco said of Heap’s contribution. “It’s tough for the safety and the linebacker to cover Todd. He was big underneath for us today.”
Heap’s day was a post-season record for catches and yardage for the Ravens. It was also a record for the most catches by an opponent against the Chiefs in the playoffs, bettering the nine caught by WR Haywood Jeffires of Houston (1993) and Indianapolis TE Dallas Clark (2006).Â Â
“I’m always confident that I can get open,” said Heap. “The way they were playing it, the defenses we were getting, we were successful early in the game. Joe kept gaining more confidence in just putting the ball out there and obviously I felt good about the matchups out there. We were able to keep converting and making big plays down the field.”
And it seemed impossible for the Chiefs to keep him under control. They started first with SS Eric Berry pretty much taking him all over the field on the first possession by the Ravens offense. Heap caught three of the four passes thrown in his direction in the series, getting 12, seven and 13 yards. All three came with Berry on his hip, unable to stop the throw.
Finally, the fourth throw came to Heap in the end zone and Berry was able to knock it down.
“He’s a very good receiver,” said Berry, who also knocked down another pass that went to Heap in the second half. “He doesn’t so much as push off with his hands, but he kind of puts his shoulder into you and he gets away from you on that.”
Later, the Chiefs started using S Jon McGraw on Heap whenever they had their dime defense on the field. Most of the time, McGraw was trailing Heap on the coverage, and he kept grabbing the passes thrown to him.
“He’s a big body, he has speed and quickness,” McGraw said of Heap. He’s a savvy route runner and they do a good job of scheming to get him in space.
“We were trying different defenses to find what would work. We knew after the first few series we had to get out of the zones. We were having problems underneath with backs getting open. We tried to get some man coverages to tighten it up, but that creates some tough one-on-one situations and Todd did a great job of getting open today.”
Several times, ILB Derrick Johnson had Heap in bracket coverage with a defensive back.
“They had a good game plan with him and he made some tough catches,” Johnson said. “There were a couple of times where we had him covered and he made a tough catch. He’s a feisty veteran that helps his team win.”
Heap certainly did so on Sunday. After that first series, he came back with catches for 3, 13, 21, 12, 13, 8 and 6 yards. Berry, McGraw, Johnson and CBs Brandon Carr and Flowers all took turns trying to cover him.
“You are not going to cover Todd with a corner,” said Flacco, who hit the tight end for 10 of his 25 completions. “You’re obviously going to put him up against a safety. It’s a good matchup for us and he did a good job of catching the ball and getting some yards after the catch.”
As for the recognition that Heap gets around the rest of the league, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh says some folks must not be paying attention.
“If there’s anybody out there that doesn’t think Todd Heap is one of the premier tight ends in the National Football League then they probably haven’t paid attention over the course of his career,” Harbaugh said. “He’s got great hands, great body control, he’s tough as nails and he has great speed for a tight end.”
After Sunday, the Chiefs defense would certainly agree that Todd Heap is one tough guy to cover.