It happens all the time. A well designed-play leaves the tight end wide open and catching the ball with nothing but green in front. He races towards the endzone for what looks to be a sure touchdown, but is caught from behind by a faster defensive back with a good angle.
That doesn't happen with Vernon Davis.
If Davis is open, he has the speed to pull away from the pack, and turn a 15-yard gain into a 60-yard touchdown. He also has the size and strength to make that initial catch with a defender draped on his back. He is a deep-threat wide receiver in a tight end's body. That is what Bernard Pollard and the Ravens defense will have to try and stop on Super Bowl Sunday.
Baltimore did contend with another athletic tight end, the Patriots' Aaron Hernandez, in the AFC Championship. He put up some solid numbers, catching nine passes for 83 yards on 14 targets. That is 5.9 yards per target, a little higher than the 5.8 that Hernandez put up over an injury-plagued regular season.
Davis, on the other hand, is a far more explosive playmaker. He turned 61 targets into 548 yards in 2012, good far just under 9 yards per target. That's production close to the level of Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who picked up 9.6 yards per target during this past year. Davis is a completely different threat than most of the league's tight ends.
Pollard will likely be tasked with defending Davis for most of the game. It will be a tough chore, but there is precedent that says Pollard's physical style can be an asset against the athletic tight end. From 49ers blog Niners Nation, Dylan DeSimone looked back to the last time Davis faced a safety in the mold of Pollard:
Davis was limited and eventually crushed by a similar-type safety this season, when he met Kam Chancellor in Week 16. The fear for 49ers fans is that the Ravens' safeties have a similar effect. Pollard, as much as any safety in the league, has a presence in the defensive backfield.
Chancellor helped make Davis a non-factor in Seattle. He couldn't find space to get open, and was targeted just once. This came as Colin Kaepernick through a season-high 36 passes as the 49ers fell behind early. Davis did show his big play ability with that one target, taking it for 27 yards.
If Pollard can shove Davis around a bit to set the tone, that could very well get him rattled. Limiting him could be huge, as he went off for five catches and 106 yards on just six targets against the Falcons. The Ravens are at least fortunate to have talented safeties to contend with one of the league's best.