Today’s look into the 2020 Chiefs Matchup Series, involves two players that are absolute difference makers. Whether it is their individual positions, or overall units they play on, teams have to account for them in more ways than one. That would be Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs and newly acquired Rob Gronkowski of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Simply, the Honey Badger is one of the best do it all defensive backs in the current NFL landscape. Meanwhile, Gronk has been one of the more diverse pass catchers to account for in coverage. This leads to a compelling matchup when Kansas City goes down to Tampa late in the season. Let’s get to it.
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When the Chiefs signed Mathieu before 2019, he was labeled as the catalyst for a defense that needed a large turnaround. It may have taken time for the defense to see strides in results on the field. However, the newfound attitude and intensity was clearly a change the team wanted. And Mathieu helped instill that from the beginning.
When Kansas City needed that big play or stop on defense, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo knew just how to dial him up. We saw Mathieu blitz up the middle, stuff runs for a loss out on the edge, collapse opponents off of their routes and even saw him bully bigger bodied receivers. For example, Mike Williams of the Chargers (6’4”), was outmuscled by Tyrann a handful of times in divisional matchups. In arguably his best career season in 2019, he had one of the best campaigns of a Chiefs defensive back in a long time.
Could Mathieu and the Chiefs defense actually be better in 2020? The answer is yes. In early training camp reports, we have seen and heard that this is the most intense unit of the team. Overall, this group builds each other up and continues to find newfound energy. Whether it be on the practice field or during games, Mathieu and the rest of the DBs continue to sharpen the iron of the Kansas City defenders.
We have already mentioned the ability of lining up all over the field. In addition, Tyrann is quick to remind opponents how he is “too smart.” Where that shows up the most on tape, is in coverage.
Mathieu never seems to lose track of where the play or ball is going. His instincts are rare, and the coverage skills have become more natural. During his days at LSU, Mathieu had ample speed to stick with opposing receivers. But even now, he looks to have gained an increase in speed and a deeper change of direction. Above all, Tyrann Mathieu has the knack to know when to take risks or play it safe in critical situations.
Rob Gronkowski is back in the NFL, after coming out of retirement. He gets to saddle up with Tom Brady once again. In an offseason Zoom call, Gronkowski talked about only coming back if he was “feeling it.”
“Unless I’m feeling good, feeling healthy and I’m feeling like I’m ready to go. Now this is the case. This is the time.”
After nine record breaking seasons with the New England Patriots, Gronk retired after 2018. His pain and constant fight with injuries left a large toll on him at age 29. After nearly a year of not picking up a football, the tight end got that itch once again.
“My desire to play the game of football was coming back and I knew that by the time the season rolled around again, I would want to be back out there. It was the right time to hop on before it was too late.”
And getting to reunite with Brady was not the main piece of the puzzle for Gronkowski. As many fans and people in the media have noticed, this Tampa Bay offense has the potential to be among the best in the league. Gronkowski summed it up perfectly.
“Tom was like the appetizer of the whole meal. I saw what was down there. They got some special wide receivers out there. They’ve got other great tight ends. Let me tell you, I’m definitely looking forward to working with OJ Howard and Cam Brate.”
There are obvious questions surrounding Rob Gronkowski, after a year away from football. But, we know how much of a problem his natural strength and frame can create for opponents. His blocking style is reminiscent of a road-roller on certain plays. On the other hand, Gronkowski can play smaller and be more of a pest when blocking in tight spaces.
As a receiver, the ability this player has to high point the football is not talked about enough. His diverse athletic background, has allowed Gronkowski to mold into a better jumper than given credit for. Elsewhere, his catch radius and strong, active hands made for a near unguardable player in the past. In addition, Mathieu will prepare for the danger that Gronkowski presents after the catch, due to his powerful nature.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.