If the New England Patriots are planning on taking advantage of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton when and if he gets matched up on tight end Rob Gronkowski tomorrow, then, at the very least, they won’t be taking the first-year player by surprise. In fact, he is expecting it.
“I know one thing”, he told Chris Adamski over the course of the week. If that matchup does happen, he said, “I’m pretty sure the ball is going to come my way”. And that would be saying something, considering the fact that he has not been heavily targeted in his first season.
It actually would not be the first time that the Steelers attempt to line up a 5’9” nickel back against Gronkowski. They tried that back in 2013 during Shamarko Thomas’ rookie season, while he was serving in the nickel role, but it didn’t work out so well.
It wouldn’t be hard to predict the Patriots wanting to make liberal use of their All-Pro tight end in any game, of course. All one need do is look at their offense from this past game to see how much they missed Gronkowski, who served a one-game suspension for basically assaulting another player on the field outside of the context of a play. But I could easily go off on a tangent about that. Let’s hope he keeps his elbow away from Hilton.
The Ole Miss product has more important things to think about, like his film study. “Basing off what they do, they try to give you mismatches”, he told Adamski. “They try to mix it up. And [Tom Brady] is one of the best quarterbacks — if not the best quarterback — to play the game. He will look that way. We know what to expect. It’s just a matter of executing and not beating ourselves”.
Knowing what to expect would, at least, have the feel of a change of pace, as the Steelers have not exactly looked like they knew what was in store for them during the AFC Championship game, given the success of pre-snap audibles and gadget plays.
“I know he’s a physical guy, so I feel like if I use my quickness and not let him get his hands on me, I will be able to break with him and have a chance to make a play”, Hilton said of covering Gronkowski. But while Keith Butler has said that he’s not about to tell the tight end how he plans to defend him, multiple players have suggested it will be a multi-faceted approach.
I would expect to see a number of different players covering Gronkowski throughout the game, based on the bits of information that have trickled out of the team. Sean Davis would be an obvious candidate, as well as whoever is playing inside linebacker on that particular snap.