Every week, the head coach, defensive coordinator and members of the defense of the Patriots’ opponent are asked about defending Rob Gronkowski.
And after most games, the same subjects are called upon to provide an analysis of the task. Did whatever scheme drawn up to limit the game’s premier tight end work?
Usually, the answer is no.
Rex Ryan said his Bills would need a defender that looked like King Kong to match up with the 6-foot-6, 265-pound Gronkowski.
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Washington coach Jay Gruden likened Gronkowski to LeBron James or Steph Curry. Gronk, like the hoop stars, is going get his. Just keep the numbers reasonable.
A Cowboys’ coach simply threw up his hands when asked about Dallas’ plans? “We have no clue,” was the response.
The Chiefs are next to try to devise something to reduce Gronkowski’s impact. That is, if Gronk doesn’t curtail himself. He’s lugging an injured knee that according to media reports required a pain injection on Thursday. The Patriots’ latest injury report also listed Gronkowski’s back as an ailment.
He’s been dealing with the knee injury since he sprained it in the fourth quarter of New England’s loss at Denver in week 12. Gronkowski missed one game.
He’s tweaked it a couple of times since then, but because the Patriots are the second seed in the AFC playoffs, Gronkowski got an additional week of rest last weekend.
Gronkowski has played through injuries in previous seasons, and the Chiefs expect to get the full Gronk experience Saturday.
“He’s a competitor,” Chiefs safety Eric Berry said. “That, along with his size and ability …”
Makes Gronkowski, who leads the Patriots with 72 receptions, a total package. Like many teams, the Chiefs expect to use different personnel and approaches to cover quarterback Tom Brady’s favorite target, and Berry figures to be involved most often.
But at some point, seemingly every defender gets a crack at Gronkowski, and sometimes two or three on one play.
The idea of bracketing him — use a linebacker to jam Gronkowski off att the line, then have a faster defender pick him up after he begins his route — sometimes works. That is, until Gronkowski is split wide and forces single coverage by an undersized defender.
Gronkowski will line up in a conventional tight end spot, split wide or in the backfield, changing the defensive responsibility at the line.
Brady will look to get the ball out of his hand quickly, and that also poses a problem.
“He’s one of those guys that is brilliant on the field,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “He knows what to do with the football. You’re not going to trick Tom Brady very many times. So you just try to maybe cause a little confusion in his mind, and even that’s hard because he’s seen every single thing you can do.”
But Brady and Gronkowski have also seen what the Chiefs are doing — and have done. Kansas City has surrendered just 15 touchdowns during its 11-game winning streak. The Chiefs haven’t trailed in a game since the entering the fourth quarter of the week 12 game at Oakland down 20-14.
Then there was the team’s previous meeting, a 41-14 Chiefs clubbing on Monday Night Football in September, 2014. That night, the Chiefs intercepted Brady twice and held Gronkowski to two receptions and a touchdown. That score was a beauty, as Gronk dragged defenders into the end zone.
But he had been no factor in the game until then, thanks to an active Chiefs defense, and Gronkowski was outplayed by the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, who had eight receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown.
The Chiefs got pressure on Brady that night. Justin Houston finished with two sacks, Tamba Hali had one, Husain Abdullah returned an interception for a touchdown and Sean Smith also came up with a pick. Everything worked that night for the Chiefs, including defending the game’s top tight end.
If the Chiefs hope to reach their first AFC Championship Game since the 1993 season, the same energy will be required on Saturday.