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The challenge in defending Rob Gronkowski

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Rob Gronkowski is a matchup nightmare. The Ravens will do their best to defend him this week.

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Rob Gronkowski provides arguably the toughest matchup of any receiving target in the NFL. The Patriots tight end is too big and physical at 6-foot-6, 265 pounds for cornerbacks to check him. His speed and route-running ability makes it tough for linebackers to keep up with him. And then safeties, well, they're safeties for a reason as many simply aren't great in man-to-man coverage.

The Ravens will need to figure out a way to combat Gronkowski, New England's leading receiver at 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns. The task will likely fall upon Darian Stewart and Will Hill. It could be a situation where Hill, who defended Saints tight end Jimmy Graham quite a bit in Baltimore's win over New Orleans, follows Gronkowski around all game.

All of this stated, Gronkowski hasn't exactly lit it up in the three games he's had against the Ravens. Taking a look at those games, here's what he finished with.

2010 — 1 catch, 24 yards

2011 — 5 catches, 87 yards*

2012 — 2 catches, 24 yards

*AFC Championship Game

The AFC Championship Game, it should be noted, saw Bernard Pollard lay a tough hit on Gronkowski, resulting in an injured ankle that ended up affecting his performance in a Super Bowl loss to the Giants. So Gronkowski could very well have been en route to a big day. His other two games, however, saw limited action, including the early meeting in 2012 with Dean Pees at defensive coordinator. This could suggest that the Ravens have a solid gameplan in how to approach Gronkowski as a receiver.

Of course, more attention to Gronkowski means more looks for receivers Brandon LaFell and Julian Edelman, both of which nearly finished with 1,000 yards this season. So it's a pick-your-poison deal with Gronkowski. Should most of the attention roll his way or should the Ravens look at limiting all of New England's threats equally without solely taking away the primary option?

Gronkowski will be tough to stop. He'll get his this Saturday in the Divisional Round game. But as Baltimore has done in the past, every effort will be put in to at least try and slow him down in the passing game.

"He is unique in the sense that he's so big and so fast," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters this week. "He has a unique ability to beat coverage, and there really are not too many matchups you can put on him, zone or man. I guess you could bracket him and put him in a vice, kind of like you do on punt, but he's just a big, strong, fast guy. He has great hands. He's tough. He's very unique."