FLORHAM PARK, NJ - Everyone knows Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football, what no one seems to know is how to stop him.
Gronkowski is listed at 6'6", 265 pounds, and plays every bit as physical as those height/weight measurables would suggest, has great hands and, oh by the way, is pretty fast as well (he clocked a 4.68 40-time before being drafted). It's no wonder no one knows how to stop him.
When Todd Bowles was asked, 'beyond the obvious, what makes Gronkowski so effective?' Bowles said, "Probably the obvious things that you notice (laughter). He's big, he has great feet, he's tough, he has good hands, he's a smart player and he's a tough player. All the things that have already been said about him."
Of those things that have already been said about him is, as the prototypical tight end, he is too big and strong to be covered by most corners and he is too fast to be covered by linebackers. Everyone always wonders why teams don't use corners to cover him more often but there's a couple of problems with that question; first of all most teams don't have enough quality corners to use their best to shadow Gronkowski and still be able to stop all the other receivers Tom Brady has at his dispoal, and we all know how much Brady likes to spread the ball around. Fortunately for the Jets they are one of the, if not the only, team that is deep enough at corner to try and pull that off (more on that below). But the second problem with that question gets to the heart of the problem, teams do try to use corners to cover him it just doesn't seem to work.
"He's covered by cornerbacks," Bowles said. "He's just running them over and beating them. He gets covered by corners every week."
He does get covered by corners every week, maybe not the entire game, but more often than not one of two things happen. Either Brady finds one of his other receivers, who now have a better chance of being open since a lesser corner is covering them, or Gronkowski, as Bowles so eloquently stated, runs them over and beats them.
So, basically there is no way to truly stop Gronkowski but if there's a way to slow him down, and not allow the other receivers to have a field day, the Jets might be the one team that can actually pull off that trick.
With Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie on the outside and Buster Skrine, if healthy, at nickel we all know about how top-heavy the Jets are at corner but as injuries have shown us the Jets are ridiculously deep as well. Cromartie goes down, bring in Marcus Williams. Skrine and Williams go down, fine Dexter McDougle will do. With their depth the Jets could afford to put Revis on Gronkowski and just shift the receiver repsonsibility down the line without missing too much of a beat.
Obviously the Jets would need Williams (hamstring) and/or Skrine (concussion) to be able to play this week to be able to maximize this strategy, Skrine especially as he is the exact type of physical/aggressive corner that can matchup well with the Patriots receivers. But the Jets do have to depth to try this strategy is Bowles so chooses, will he choose to deploy this strategy remains to be seen. Or will Bowles simply elect to use this stratgey sparingly in key moments only?
The tight-lipped Bowles won't divulge any of this information until we see what happens on the field but one way or another you can expect Bowles will have specific plans with the hope of slowing down Gronkowski and obviously part of that plan will revolve around the defensive line needing to beat up on the injury-riddled offensive line of the Patriots to pressure Brady.
If that plan succeeds, and the Jets are able to slow down Gronkowski without allowing the receivers to run free, then all they have to worry about is how can their linebackers cover Dion Lewis in the passing game. But that's a story for another article.
Chris Nimbley is the Editor-in-Chief of JetsInsider.com/Scout.com. He can be reached on Twitter (@cnimbley), or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org)