A Denver Broncos defender just openly admitted to something that New England Patriots fans have feared for a long time: when defenders try to tackle Rob Gronkowski, they intentionally aim for his knees.
During an interview on SportsCenter, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was asked point blank, “How do you tackle Rob Gronkowski?” His answer is confirmation for the worries of the Patriots and it is a huge problem for the NFL.
“You gotta hit him low, man, hit him in his knees,” Harris said. “That’s the best chance you have of hitting him.”
Harris went on to say that one player can’t take down Gronk unless you take out his legs.
“You gotta take his legs out or hold on and wait for everybody, wait for the gang to come on and gang tackle him,” Harris added.
With the NFL’s now aggressively penalising defenders who hit receivers above the shoulders, the new emphasis of hitting low and potentially destroying a player’s knee is a big concern for all players catching a pass. But as Patriots fan can attest, this is an especially big problem for a big receiver like Gronkowski as defenders often aim at him below the waist.
Gronk had his 2013 season ended early when he a Browns defender took out his legs on a pass over the middle.
Then, earlier this season, Gronkowski was injured on another low hit from Harris’ own Broncos teammate. Gronkowski would miss the following week.
Luckily Gronk escaped any serious injury, but needless to say, the Patriots and their fans were holding their collective breath.
These are just two notable examples.
More importantly for the NFL, there is a huge risk on any given play that one of their marquee players could suffer a serious knee injury. But not only is this is a risk for Gronkowski, with the new emphasis on big receiving tight ends, this is a huge problem for all large receivers that small defensive backs are afraid to tackle.
Just ask Harris.
Tight ends are especially at risk as they tend to do their most damage over the middle of the field. The worry is not from the linebacker or nickel back chasing the tight end from behind, but from the safety who is coming at the receiver from the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. The NFL could modify the rule on defenseless receivers to limit the target zone on hits to the area between the waist and the shoulders. But that is a very small window even on big players and is going to lead to a lot of yellow flags on the field.
Whatever the NFL decides to do, it is clear they need to do something to protect some of their best receivers.
Here are Harris’ comments on ESPN:
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