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Assignment football: Stop Gronkowski

The New York Jets might have thought themselves unlucky last week when their scheduled game against the New England Patriots coincided with the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski to the lineup.

Well, the Dolphins might think themselves less fortunate because the Gronkowski they will see play against them Sunday has a game under his proverbial belt. He's had a 51 game snaps to knock off some rust. He's had an extra week of practice -- although admittedly limited.

Great, right?

"Yeah, I mean certainly he’s an impact player, and any time you have guys like that that are out and you’re fortunate enough to get back, they certainly make a difference and give your team a boost, and I thought he did that on Sunday," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. "Hopefully we’ll be able to build on that going forward.Yeah, we ended up – we had to throw a lot of passes last week based on the situation in the game."

Stopping Rob Gronkowski has to be a major goal for the Dolphins this weekend if they hope to beat the Patriots. When healthy, he has been among the most accomplished tight ends in the NFL. And when facing accomplished tight ends, the Dolphins have not exactly had awesome success.

Remember Jimmy Graham caught four passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns against Miami. Remember Coby Fleener had four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. Remember Jordan Cameron caught nine passes for 108 yards and a touchdown.

But there is some hope.

The Dolphins limited Tony Gonzalez to only four catches for 24 yards without a TD. And Gronk is more a Gonzalez type TE than he is a Graham, who the Saints flank out wide like a wide receiver. Gronk is more an in-line, traditional tight end.

"He’s a unique guy in that his combination of size and strength, his ability to body position people is really what separates him. I thought the Jets did some things that at times they did some good things with him in the ball game, but yet he still caught the ball and had over 100 yards of receptions in the game. You don’t want him to catch the big balls down the field, if you can kind of keep him contained where he’s catching shallow balls that is a good thing. You have to be able to do some things to try and take him out of the game, so that’s going to be a big challenge for us."

So what do the Dolphins do? I'd imagine because the Patriots have no accomplished outside threats, Gronkowski will draw doubles. He'll be bracketed by either a linebacker and a safety or a nickel cornerback and a safety, probably Reshad Jones.

Gronkowski one-on-one against either a cornerback or a safety is a mismatch because he's more physical than they are. Gronk one-on-one against a linebacker is a mismatch because he's faster than the linebacker. It is a sure-fire call for bracket coverage and fulltime attention.

"Remember Gronk is a good player for us – he’s a really good player for us – but we have some other guys that I really count on too that I’ve been playing with," quarterback Tom Brady said (suggesting he's got other weapons that he really doesn't have to any consistent degree). "It’s going to be a big challenge for our guys going up against a real good coverage secondary. I’m sure – they’re very much a game plan team, and they’ll have their different elements to their particular game plan, but even playing them last year, they’re a good defense."

 

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