Five Key Match-ups to Watch: New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers
By Hal Bent
Nov 2, 2014; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (87) flips the ball to an official after a reception during the first quarter against the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
New England TE Rob Gronkowski vs Michael Mitchell, William Gay, Ryan Shazier, Cortez Allen, Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas or whoever they throw out to cover him
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive players have made a point to speak to the media this week and declare that they are not afraid of New England tight end Rob Gronkowski. They vow they will allow no free release and knock his timing off and take him out of the game plan. However, with the physical specimen which is Gronkowski, it is easier said than done on the field.
In 2013 the Steelers tried the same strategy against Gronkowski and all he did was catch nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.
Gronkowski is one of the most difficult to cover offensive weapons in the NFL. Too strong for a cornerback, too fast for a linebacker, too much height and size for a safety, there is just hard to plan to stop Gronkowski. Jamming him at the line requires a pass rusher strong enough to get him off his spot: that gives Tom Brady extra time to throw and find another weapon in single coverage.
Expect the Steelers to throw the kitchen sink at the New England tight end. One play may have a safety and linebacker bracketing him, another may have a cornerback with safety help. An outside linebacker may chip him and hand him off to another defender at times. There is no one way to stop Gronkowski. He may be among the most unstoppable players in the league.
The Steelers need to find a way to slow down Gronkowski. They need to mix and match defenders and looks. Really, the best way to slow Gronkowski is to get pressure on quarterback Tom Brady and not give him time to get the ball to Gronkowski. For the Steelers, it is not stopping the New England tight end, it is all eleven defenders working to slow him down and try to negate big plays.