GREEN BAY—When facing a Tom Brady-quarterbacked offense, there’s no place to hide.
Any defender the Patriots feel might be a liability for the opponent, they’ll come after him, and it won’t take long to find him.
“Their offense is all about matchups,” defensive back Micah Hyde said, echoing what the Packers’ offensive players have been saying about the Patriots’ defense. “They’re going to try to go at guys they think they can win against. That’s what they do.”
The toughest matchup for the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field, of course, will be tight end Rob Gronkowski, who leads the Patriots in both receiving yards (812) and touchdowns (nine). Big, physical and fast, Gronkowski will be a target of Brady’s no matter who’s guarding him.
But Brady has plenty of other options, too. Fellow tight end Tim Wright is second to Gronkowski on the team with six TDs. Julian Edelman leads the Patriots in receptions with 70. Receiver Brandon LaFell is right behind Wright with five scores and matches Gronkowski’s yards per catch (14.0). In the backfield, one week after little-known Jonas Gray ran for 200 yards and four TDs, street free agent LeGarrette Blount rushed for two scores.
“When it’s all said and done, it’s not just about Gronkowski,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “He imposes his will on defenses, but Tom spreads the ball around. He gets the ball to his backs, to his receivers, everybody. So you can’t just pinpoint one guy. Certain guys make bigger plays, but you can’t pinpoint one guy.”
That said, the Packers will be on their heels all game if the 6-6, 285-pound Gronkowski gets going. Linebacker Clay Matthews could get the assignment at times. So could Julius Peppers, or Hyde or Morgan Burnett.
It’s almost a given the Packers will try to mix it up, having to decide whether they want to sacrifice a top pass rusher or the size mismatch with a safety in certain situations.
“The biggest thing with a guy like him is you have to find a way to get him down once he catches the ball,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “His yards after catch, I don’t know what the stats might be on him, but he breaks a lot of tackles and gets downfield, and their team gets energized when he does that.”
So, is it tougher to cover Gronkowski or tackle him?
“I can’t even answer that for you,” Hyde said. “You can see on tape he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys have trouble getting him down. But at the same time, guys are trying to limit his touches and he’s still catching the ball. I’ll have to answer that after the game on Sunday.”
Matthews said he’d welcome the challenge if and when it falls to him. He said Thursday he has “zero limitations” with the groin injury that reduced his early third-down snaps last week in Minnesota. Matthews is not listed on the injury report this week.
Harassing Brady will be another priority, obviously, but Matthews called on that being a group effort, because pressure in Brady’s face from the interior rushers will be just as important as pressure from the edge.
“At the end of the day, this is a quarterback who gets rid of the ball very quick,” Matthews said. “He’s hard to stop, but we have to make our plays when it counts. You see the teams that have been able to beat him have done that. Hopefully that’s the case. We can’t let him get comfortable back there and get rolling, or it will be a long day for us.”
No matter whom Brady decides to pick on.
“That’s been their MO,” Williams said. “They find different ways to attack different teams. You never know what it’s going to be from week to week.
“That’s the chess match, and that’s what the great teams do. They play chess. It isn’t a checkers game. Hopefully we can go out and play chess a little bit, too.”
ADDITIONAL COVERAGE - NOV. 27