When the Pittsburgh Steelers hook up with the New England Patriots Sunday afternoon the Steelers’ defense won’t have to deal with the weapons that the Patriots usually throw their way, but they will have to worry about containing one man.
That would be New England tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Pats quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t exactly put up typical Brady-like numbers this season and the fact that Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez are no longer around to kill them in the slot will play to the Steelers favor. However Dick LeBeau‘s defense will still have to find a way to take Gronkowski out of the game as the Pro Bowl tight end has had big success against them in the past.
Gronkowski, who played his senior season at Woodland Hills High School, missed the Pats first six games of the season before coming back two weeks ago against the New York Jets to catch eight passes for 114 yards. He wasn’t nearly as dominant last week in New England’s comeback victory over the Miami Dolphins, catching only two passes for 27 yards.
But Gronk has historically done well against the Steelers.
As a rookie in 2010, Gronkowski caught five passes for 72 yards and scored three touchdowns in a 39-26 Patriots victory at Heinz Field. In that game, cornerback William Gay was matched up against him a lot and didn’t have great success.
The following season the two teams met again and Cortez Allen drew the assignment on Gronkowski. Allen kept him out of the end zone, but Gronkowski still hauled in seven passes for 94 yards.
Allen will probably spend a lot of his day Sunday matched up against Gronk and he has to limit what the tight end’s production or it will be another long day for the Steelers defense.
There’s two simple keys for Allen or whoever ends up on Gronkowski.
The first of which includes being very physical with him at the line of scrimmage. If Gronkowski is given a lot of space, he is going to have a big afternoon.
Secondly, they have to do a good job of locating him on third down.
The Steelers defense has been good at times this season, but have had problems getting off the field on third down in key situations.
Gronkowski is a weapon on third down and if he is able to move the chains three or four times to extend drives, it is going to be a long day.
If the Pats are going to make plays on third downs, the Steelers are going to have to make someone else beat them as there is no way Gronkowski should be roaming free on third down.
Whether or not the Steelers can leave Gillette Stadium with a victory could depend on the kind of job they do on Gronkowski.
We will find out this afternoon if they are up for the challenge.