Gronkowski effusive in praise of Polamalu

PITTSBURGH -- He gave answers that were a mixture of bland and cliché.

And he did so with such consistency that you imagined Bill Belichick standing over Rob Gronkowski with his arms folded as the New England Patriots tight end conducted a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters this week.

One thing did stand out – aside from the utter banality of the interview – and that was how effusive Gronkowski was in his praise of Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu.

"He’s one of the best players I’ve played against," Gronkowski said. "It’s just unbelievable how quick he can hit that gap, how quick he can hit that hole. Coverage-wise to blitzing to tackling, he’s a great player overall."

Polamalu’s play has been one of the few bright spots for a team that has lost five of its first seven games. And the Steelers will need Polamalu to be his usual disruptive self, and help contain Gronkowski on Sunday when they visit the Patriots at Gillette Stadium.

Gronkowski poses all kind of matchup problems because of his size, speed and soft hands.

"And the fact that he has a quarterback that can put the ball anywhere," Polamalu said. "Of course he catches anything near him as well."

Tom Brady has thrown Gronkowski’s way early and often since the 6-6, 265-pounder returned to action after missing the Patriots’ first six games because of back and forearm injuries.

Gronkowski has been targeted 23 times in two games, and he has caught 10 passes for 141 yards.

"You don’t have to be a genius to see that (Brady) likes that guy,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. "He’s a great catcher, and has a size advantage on everybody. They’ve been better since he has been back. We have to keep him from controlling the game."

Gronkowski said the Patriots have to do the same with Polamalu, who made his 31st career interception last Sunday.

"You see him make some crazy plays," Gronkowski said. "He just has a knack for the game. He’s been around it for so long. I think he knows what’s going to go on and where the play is going to go sometimes."