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Lions must be physical with Rob Gronkowski

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In order for the Detroit Lions to stand any chance against Rob Gronkowski on Sunday, they may have to alter their scheme slightly and get physical with him at the line of scrimmage.

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

This isn't breaking news by any means, but Rob Gronkowski is pretty good at this football thing. Through 10 games this season, "Gronk" is in the top three of all tight ends in receptions (53), total yards (734) and touchdowns (9). He poses a serious threat to the Detroit Lions and their No. 1-ranked defense on Sunday. In order for the Lions to stand any chance with him, they may have to alter their scheme slightly and get physical with him at the line of scrimmage.

So far this season, the Lions have used their linebackers and safeties in a lot of zone coverages. And while this doesn't allow for teams to throw over the top for the big play, it could prove costly against a dynamic player like Gronkowski. If the Lions want to limit Gronk's effectiveness, they should take a long look at New England's game from earlier this year against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs held him to just two receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown, and the main way they were able to limit his role was by getting physical with him at the line of scrimmage.

Gronk 1

On this play the Chiefs use outside linebacker Tamba Hali to disrupt Gronkowski at the line of scrimmage and allow safety help to come over from the top. This forces Tom Brady to throw a tight pass into double coverage -- a win for the Chiefs.

Over 70 percent of Gronkowski's targets have come in the middle of the field, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), and Brady has an average quarterback rating of 102.6 when throwing in the middle of the field this season. Look for the Lions to continue to use their linebackers and safeties to roam the middle of the field and take away easy throws to Gronkowski and use some press coverage to rattle him at the line of scrimmage, something that is easier said than done.

If Gronkowski is given a free release at the line of scrimmage, he's proven to be almost unstoppable. He's too big (6-foot-6, 265 pounds) for most cornerbacks and too fast (4.68 40-yard dash) for many linebackers to cover one-on-one. It's going to take a total team effort to limit the "Gronk Effect" on Sunday.

Gronk 2

And even when you have players in position to make the play, Gronkowski is a tough guy to bring down. On the season he has 12 missed tackles and 300 yards after the catch. And the trouble is that if you pay too much attention to Gronkowski, Brady will find someone else.

The Lions have a tall task on Sunday away from the friendly confines of Ford Field. Mission No. 1 should be stopping Rob Gronkowski.