This time Texans will face Gronkowski

This time Texans will face Gronkowski
January 11, 2013, 9:00 am
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Texans need to game plan for Gronkowski

Rob Gronkowski towers over most players on a football field.

At 6-foot-6, 265 pounds, Gronkowski would be an intimidating presence at just about any position on the field. But the fact that he’s one of the best pass-catching tight ends in NFL history makes him scary.

Like nightmare scary.

Gronkowski wasn’t on the field the first time the Texans played the Patriots in Foxboro this year, in Week 14 but the nightmare lived on just fine without him. The Patriots won 42-14 without the All Pro tight end. But he’ll be back for this playoff matchup.

How’s that for scary?

“It’s scary, but they’re better with a great player, and he’s a great player,” Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “Having him as a threat also, that just gives them another threat on the field all the time.”

Gronkowski missed the Texans game, along with four others this season, with a broken forearm. But even though he missed five games this season, he still put up impressive numbers. In 11 games, Gronkowski had 55 catches for 790 yards and 11 touchdowns. Had he played an entire season, he was on pace for 80 catches for 1,149 yards and 16 touchdowns.

As great as that season would have been, it still isn’t as good as his 2011 was when he was completely healthy.

So, yeah, the Texans will have their hands full with Gronk on Sunday.

“It’ll be fun going up against the Gronk. We were old college teammates, so we’ll be battling out there,” linebacker Brooks Reed said.
 
“He’s a big challenge. He challenges the field vertically, and you have to have a big body on him down field because he just reaches up top and over safeties. He’s tough to cover.”

Saying Gronkowski is tough to cover is probably an understatement seeing as how he might just be the toughest mismatch in all of football. He’s 6-6 with decent speed and great hands.

To put it in perspective, the tallest starter on the Texans’ defense is Connor Barwin at 6-4. It won’t be Barwin who’s chasing Gronk around. All four starters in the secondary and Brandon Harris, the nickel corner, are 6-0 or shorter. The best bet, size-wise and athletically speaking, to cover Gronkowski might be Whitney Mercilus, who is 6-4, 257.

“He’s exceptional,” Texans head coach Gary Kubiak said. “I tell you what, if the ball is close to him he’s going to catch it. The thing about him, people play him with corners on him. They play him with backers on him. They play him with safeties. His size is just such that it’s just hard. You get in there and bang with him you’re going to lose that battle. Obviously, we didn’t see him the first time around so it’ll be different for us, but a big, big challenge for us.”

Where Gronkowski really shines is in the red zone. With his big body, he has 39 touchdowns from scrimmage since 2010 behind only Arian Foster’s 47. Gronkowski also has 38 receiving touchdowns. Calvin Johnson is second with 31.

Where Gronkowski is a mismatch problem with his size, Aaron Hernandez, the Patriots’ other tight end, is a mismatch with his speed. In the first meeting between the two teams, Hernandez had eight catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s going to be tough,” safety Glover Quinn said. “They’re good players, but we have good players too, so it’ll be a good challenge. Hopefully we’ll make more plays than they do.”

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