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Aqib Talib knows a thing or two about defending Rob Gronkowski

Aqib Talib, now with the Rams, tackles Rob

Aqib Talib, now with the Rams, tackles Rob Gronkowski during the AFC Championship Game at Denver in 2016. Talib could be matched up against the Patriots tight end again in Super Bowl LIII.  Credit: Getty Images/Justin Edmonds

BUCKHEAD, Ga. — Aqib Talib began Super Bowl week by defending Rob Gronkowski.

Asked about the Patriots tight end, Talib, his former New England teammate, said the narrative of Gronkowski’s demise is a media fabrication.

“He looks great, man. He looks like Gronk to me,” Talib said on Monday. “All the shots, they’re coming from y’all. They don’t come from the guys watching the tape. If you watch the tape, you’d see.”

Now that he is getting closer and closer to actually having to defend Gronkowski on the field, however, Talib is dialing back the praise. When it comes to facing such an imposing player who can dominate defensive backs and linebackers, Talib made sure to note that Gronkowski is not a superhero or force of nature. He’s just another player.

“He’s human,” Talib said. “We’re all human beings.”

Therefore, he can be covered. How will the Rams do that? They don’t know quite yet.

When Talib was with the Broncos, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips used him to match up against Gronkowski quite a bit. Now that Talib and Phillips are together again, it stands to reason that Talib will be on Gronk Watch again.

Talib, though, said that’s probably more up to the Patriots than the Rams.

“I don’t even know who I’ll be on in the Super Bowl,” Talib said. “We don’t know what they’re going to do. They could come out and be in three tight ends and one receiver all day . . . I could have a day on Gronk all day, I could have a day on [Chris] Hogan all day. I don’t really know my matchup and how it’s going to be. You have to prepare for all different ways they can attack you.”

Gronkowski, despite Talib’s compliments, has had the worst scoring season of his career with only three touchdowns in 2018. But he does seem to rise to big occasions. In last year’s Super Bowl, he caught nine passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. In this year’s AFC title game against the Chiefs, he had six catches for 79 yards.

While his numbers have dipped, the ones that really make Gronkowski a handful — his 6-6 height and 265-pound weight — are still in play for the Rams. He’ll likely have an advantage against linebackers such as Mark Barron and Cory Littleton, each at least three inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter. Safety John Johnson could get the assignment, too.

“He makes a lot of contested catches just because he’s so big,” Johnson said. “If you get caught on top of him, if you’re basically behind him, you have no shot. I’m going to have to stay underneath him.”

If, that is, he’s assigned to him. Rams coach Sean McVay seems to think he will use a variety of players — some at the same time — to try to reduce the Gronk Effect.

“The one-on-one matchups provide challenges,” McVay said. “When you talk about complete tight ends who are able to do everything, he’s been that and he’s been as consistent as anybody in this league throughout the course of his career. He’s a great matchup problem.”

One the Rams will have to solve to win the Super Bowl.

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