Detroit Lions must slow down Rob Gronkowski to beat Patriots. But how?

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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Glover Quin thought about the question for a second.

Can the Detroit Lions take anything from the way the Jacksonville Jaguars shut down Rob Gronkowski last week and apply it to Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots and arguably the toughest matchup in all of football?

“Ummm,” Quin said, trying to suppress a devious smile. “Nah.” 

If Gronkowski is the Superman of NFL tight ends — and he is — the Jaguars have been his Kryptonite of late.

In two games against the Jaguars over the past eight months, Gronkowski has three catches for 36 yards.

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Rob Gronkowski dances as he celebrates a touchdown in Super Bowl LII.

He caught two passes for 15 yards in New England’s loss Sunday, when he was targeted four times, and had only a single reception for 21 yards in a playoff win in January.

In 17 games against teams other than Jacksonville since the start of the 2017 season, Gronkowski has 91 catches for 1,404 yards and 12 touchdowns, an average of more than five catches and 82 yards per game.

“You’d say superstar players are going to get (theirs),” Quin said. “They don’t go off every game. They go off a lot of them. They don’t go off every game, but they do demand a lot of attention, so we just got to know where he’s at, at all time and make sure that we keep that in mind.”

The Jaguars’ blueprint for defending Gronkowski, who was limited in practice Thursday with an ankle issue, is not entirely new, but their execution of it has been sublime.

Last week, Jacksonville used a variety of coverages on the tight end affectionately known as Gronk, sometimes double-teaming him, occasionally using a cornerback on him but often letting safety Tashaun Gipson cover him one-on-one.

According to NBC Sports Boston, Gipson matched up in man coverage against Gronkowski 13 times on 32 pass routes and didn’t allow a completion.

Gipson said the game plan on Gronk was simple: “Get hands on him” to match his physicality, then blanket him with speed.

Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills breaks up a pass intended for Rob Gronkowski in Super Bowl LII.

“We have nobody that's that big or physically imposing who can physically guard him pound-for-pound,” Gipson told the website. “I think you truly have to be physical with him. You have to beat him to the punch. You have to be sure you stay on top of his routes and control him …

"In the red zone we had some cuts where if he had an in-break, we had a safety going to get him (to double coverage), but for the most part it was, 'Hey, you got him.’ ”

Listed at 6-foot-6 and 268 pounds, Gronkowski is the most unique tight end in the NFL because of his blend of size, physicality and athleticism.

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He’s an imposing red-zone threat who towers over cornerbacks – he once caught 17 touchdown passes in a season — and too good downfield to match up with a linebacker.

“Gronk’s a beast cause obviously he went to the University of Arizona and we produce beasts,” Lions linebacker and fellow Arizona alum Marquis Flowers joked. “But he’s a great player. He produces. I don’t know what other defenses try to do, all I know is we can do what we’re going to be coached to do this week, and go out there, accept the challenge and compete.”

Lions safety Quandre Diggs intercepts a pass against the Jets.

With Darius Slay unlikely to play Sunday because of a concussion, the Lions have no cornerbacks who can cover Gronkowski one-on-one for an extended period of time.

Like the Jaguars, they could use a safety on Gronk — Quandre Diggs is the most likely candidate, though Quin and Tavon Wilson also are in the Lions’ regular nickel package — but they might be better off rotating coverages and personnel.

“He’s a good player and guys like that are hard to stop,” linebacker Christian Jones said. “You’ve just got to just do your best to limit what they do.”

The Patriots are light on talent at the receiver position, with Julian Edelman serving a four-game suspension and Josh Gordon’s role uncertain after an early week trade. As such, Quin said the Lions will be “tuned in to” Gronkowski wherever he goes on the field, and Jones said limiting his impact will be key to the Lions pulling off the upset.

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“He’s been with Tom for a lot of years so they have a good rapport on the field,” Quin said. “He’s big, he’s physical, he’s faster than people think. He runs kind of weird, but he moves. He moves fast. He’s not real shifty, but you don’t have to be when you’re that big.

“When you got a guy that big, I don’t know if you guys realize, when you’re going against a guy that’s 6-8, like 260, 270, however big he is, like those guys are big, man. Those guys are big. It’s like guarding (defensive end Ziggy Ansah). And he can catch. Like I say, great ball skills. And Tom (Brady) trusts him. When you trust a guy, you’re going to go to him so all those things together makes it tough.”

Contact Dave Birkett: Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Download our Lions Xtra app for free on Apple and Android!

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