Are defensive coordinators taking Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski too lightly entering 2020?

Nick Goss
NBC Sports Boston

Oddsmakers view the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a legitimate threat to win Super Bowl LV next season, and many NFL experts feel the same way.

The acquisitions of quarterback Tom Brady and tight end Rob Gronkowski to an already loaded offense, in addition to having a strong defense and a veteran head coach have made the Buccaneers an early favorite for the NFC South title, the NFC conference championship and the Lombardi Trophy.

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When it comes to Brady and Gronkowski returning to their form of old, however, there are some defensive coordinators who aren't as optimistic. ESPN's Dianna Russini spoke to a few defensive coordinators who had some interesting comments about the two future Hall of Famers.

"In terms of concern for (Gronkowski) being a threat, from what I can gather in my conversations, it's not a high priority," Russini said on Thursday's "Get Up" morning show. "They know that he's vertical, he's long. He's going to run those seams."

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What's the game plan against Brady? Be physical with him, of course. 

"It's all about hitting him," Russini said. "It's all about getting him on the ground. He is not as dynamic in the pocket anymore. In terms of them as a duo, yes, they are still going to be a threat. But this is not the Tom Brady, the Rob Gronkowski that we've seen in years past, according to defensive coordinators I've talked to."

There's little doubt Brady is not the same player he was a few years ago. Gronkowski also was slowing down in his final season with the Patriots and has battled many injuries in his career. 

It does seem, however, that some of these defensive coordinators are underestimating both Brady and Gronkowski a little bit entering the 2020 season. 

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Brady still finished seventh in the league with 4,057 passing yards in 2019, and he also threw fewer than 10 interceptions for the seventh time in the last 10 years. He also battled through injury and a weaker-than-normal supporting cast last season. Brady won't have any issues with a lack of talent in Tampa Bay, and some experts have argued that the Bucs' wide receiver group is the best the 42-year-old veteran has ever had. If he's healthy, the six-time champion should still be a top 10 quarterback in 2020. And we know Brady thrives off bulletin board material, and he's had plenty of it come his way this offseason.

Gronkowski is less likely to return to his old form. It's hard to ignore all the injuries and surgeries he's gone through. He struggled a bit with the Patriots in 2018, but to his credit, he showed up during clutch moments in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII. A year off could help him quite a bit, though, and we know he already has a strong chemistry and trust level with Brady, which puts him a little bit ahead of other Tampa Bay teammates who've never played alongside the legendary quarterback. 

The Bucs have a tough schedule and the lack of a normal offseason is definitely a challenge for them, but it's hard to argue they're not a real threat to win the Super Bowl, and the presence of both Brady and Gronkowski is a huge reason for that optimism.

Are defensive coordinators taking Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski too lightly entering 2020? originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

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