FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Kacy Rodgers had barely settled himself on the podium before he was hit with the question of the week.
“That’s a great question and there’s about 30 other teams I need to ask,” the defensive coordinator said with a laugh. “In all fairness, he’s a tremendous player. We’ve got a lot of different things we’ve got to try. I don’t think that one thing works to stop him.”
The New England Patriots’ tight end is a matchup nightmare, and not just against the Jets. He’s having yet another terrific season with 66 catches for 1,072 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His biggest game this year came the last time the AFC East rivals played in October, when Gronkowski had a career-best 11 catches for 108 yards and a TD.
“You don’t find too many 6-foot-7 (he’s actually 6-6) tight ends that can move,” linebacker Calvin Pace said. “You’ve got a quarterback that can throw him open a lot of times. With him being so tall, it’s in his favor. You’ve got to run multiple guys at him, tough coverage and you have to get there.”
That’s part of the problem, though. Do you use a safety, an athletic linebacker or both?
Other than his size making him difficult to bring down, Gronkowski has terrific speed for a tight end, and many linebackers simply can’t keep up.
“You’ve got to have different game plans when you go up against him,” said safety Calvin Pryor, who will likely be tasked with defending Gronkowski. “He’s so big and physical and he’s able to get off the jam quite easily when someone tries to jam him because he’s so strong.”
In the teams’ last meeting, Pryor left with a high ankle sprain early in the third quarter, causing the Jets to scramble to find an effective match against Gronkowski.
With Pryor out of the game, the New England tight end had six catches for 68 yards and a touchdown.
“Well, every healthy body will help against that,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know that one person alone will stop him. He’s a tremendous player, so we’ve got a lot of different things we’ve got to try, but he’s definitely an important part of our game plan.”
Jets coach Todd Bowles didn’t dismiss the idea of trying to be physical with Gronkowski to knock him off his game a bit. But the Jets’ coach warned that defenders need to get their feet under them because of his size.
“He can run anybody over,” Bowles said. “He’s nifty as well. You’ve just got to be smart about how you play him.”
Gronkowski is confident wherever he lines up that he can beat whoever might be across from him. Still, he doesn’t downplay the fact that he faces a challenge on just about every snap.
“It’s not just you go out there and you win the matchup,” he said during a conference call. “These players, especially these defensive backs, safeties of the Jets, linebackers, they can cover — press, off the ball, whatever it is. I’ve just got to be prepared and focus on what I’ve got to do in order to get open.”
Bowles was also asked if playing in space against Gronkowski could be more effective than bumping him.
“Nothing has really worked,” he said. “You’ve just got to pick and choose your poison against him and just try and slow him down.”
Much easier said than done, of course.
Gronkowski has made a career of running through, past and over would-be defenders. He’s on the verge of setting some franchise career records. Gronkowski has 65 touchdown catches, two behind Stanley Morgan. His 66 total TDs (65 catches, 1 run) put him two behind Morgan for the most total scores in Patriots history.
“As you look at it, this guy lines up in line at tight end, then you look at it and (he) lines up as a No. 1 receiver,” Rodgers said. “He’s all over the place and that creates matchup problems.
“It creates a lot of problems. A headache.”
NOTES: CB Dee Milliner (hamstring) didn’t practice. Bowles said if he doesn’t participate Friday, his chances of playing Sunday would be “slim.” … WR Quincy Enunwa (neck), CB Dexter McDougle (ankle), LB David Harris (back) and LB Calvin Pace (abdomen) were limited. … CB Darrelle Revis got an up-close look at the Patriots last season while helping them win a Super Bowl, and knows what goes into their game planning. “They’re very savvy at dissecting your weaknesses on defenses and figuring it out,” Revis said. “They do a great job. It’s almost like a heavyweight bout. You throw a punch at them, and they might throw two back at you.”
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