Rob Gronkowski is one of the rarest players in the NFL. No other player has his rare combination of size, speed, and strength. He is always praised for his receiving ability, but for his career he has been a strong blocker in the pass and run game. You just do not see a player do it all like him every day.
How will Pittsburgh Steelers defend Rob Gronkowski?
In fact, typically the only thing that has ever slowed him down has been injury related. There are times he does not get huge fantasy numbers, sure, but that usually comes down to situations outside of his control. The teams that do limit Gronkowski from changing the game usually wind up considering themselves lucky.
The Steelers have tried different methods and have come up short in slowing him down every single time. Over five games he has 30 receptions, 496 yards and eight touchdowns against the Steelers. His career low against Pittsburgh in yards is 72. In that game, he put up three touchdowns. His lowest reception game of four came with 93 yards and a touchdown, and he was only held out of the end zone in one of the five games, a game where he put up seven receptions for 94 yards.
The Steelers have not yet figured out Gronkowski, which why the team is saying it will take a group effort to defend him.
The name to key in on is T.J. Watt. It is very notable what Watt can do in coverage. In fact, it can almost be argued that Watt is better in coverage than he is at rushing the passer at this point. This is a player who has six sacks as a rookie too, the coverage is solid.
Watt, like Rob Gronkowski, is a rare football player in terms of size and athleticism. His ceiling is ridiculously high. Watt usually spends a lot of time defending the flats, but in base situations can see himself sliding inside to take the middle of the field more. Is this something the Steelers have up their sleeve? Do they completely expose their plan, or do they go to it in spurts, hoping to see how it works for a potential AFC Championship rematch?
Without going exclusively to Watt other names that come to mind in this group effort are Sean Davis, who was in the slot the last time the Steelers played New England, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, Mike Hilton and William Gay.
You do not want to go to Hilton and Gay often due to size, and Spence and Williams due to speed. Still, the Patriots are going to find ways to expose matchups to get at least a few of these snaps. Williams and Spence will have to jam him off of the line, and Gay and Hilton will be looking to break on passes to knock them away.
However, the name that obviously stands out is Davis. Davis is giving up size to Gronkowski, but in a rare instance, Davis has the advantage in athleticism. Davis tested off of the charts at the NFL combine. He would be a perfect deep middle matchup for Gronkowski.
The issue with Davis is that he has been an absolute liability in coverage. Double moves and play action have thrown him off, and if Tom Brady sees that he is the likely matchup with Gronkowski on a particular play, he is going to throw in some window dressing.
This all does not even factor in that the same group of players is likely the group that has to take on the Patriots rotating rushing attack.
The Steelers are in a tough spot when it comes to Gronkowski and the running backs. Expect the Steelers to poke around and try a few things, and hope to develop a way to attack with full throttle if the two teams do meet down the road.