When Al Davis traded Jon Gruden to Tampa in 2002, the Raiders played in a coaching-competitive AFC. With Belichick, Shanahan, Cowher, Billick, Dungy, and Schottenheimer serving as roadblocks, Gruden looked to match wits weekly. If you fast-forward sixteen years, the face of the AFC changed. Now, Gruden can match wits with every opposing coach. Yet, the difference is the amount of average sideline talent that resides in the AFC. If you strip away the players for a minute, realize coaching matters. How else can you explain Todd Downing?
Before any AFC coach deserves mentioning, Bill Belichick’s name needs uttering. Since Gruden left, all he has done is win multiple world championships. Like it or not, the Patriots are the premier dynasty in the NFL. Although the supporting cast changes regularly, Belichick finds a way to design masterful gameplans that fit his players. Eventually, the Patriots’ run will end. RaiderNation hopes the Silver and Black serve as the root cause.
While the casual fan looks at Belichick and proclaims that Tom Brady is the main reason for New England success, check deeper. Belichick’s defenses ranked in the top-10 in fewest points allowed twenty-one times. Under those circumstances, Tom Brady has nothing to do with that. Belichick schemes to take away what you do best offensively. Coupled with the prolific offense, the Patriots pose an eternal headache.
The Next Level
In Pittsburgh, Gruden encounters one of his former assistants. While Mike Tomlin won a Super Bowl with the Steelers, his teams suffered recent playoff setbacks. Since the Steelers reached the Super Bowl following the 2010 season, they compiled a 3-4 playoff record. With a team boasting a superlative passer, back and receivers, how much of that falls on Tomlin? If the ultimate goal is playoff success, the burden remains heavy. Head to head, Gruden will run across each other in the playoffs before attempting to topple the Patriots.
The ties between Gruden and Reid run deep. However, Reid finds himself in this category due to his inability to close the show when it matters. If you flashback to Saturday, the Chiefs looked to end the Titans’ season. Up 21-3 at halftime, the Chiefs’ offense ground to a halt. Presumptive Rookie of the Year Kareem Hunt tallied on eleven carries. With the season on the line, Reid devolved into passing when running the ball drains the clock and ends the game. Ultimately, Tennessee hung around and won 22-21. Of Reid’s last six playoff appearances, five were of the “one and done” variety. Gruden knows Reid’s strengths and weaknesses. Seeing each other twice yearly could work into the favor of Oakland.
Like Tomlin, John Harbaugh parlayed early career playoff success into a Super Bowl. In addition, his recent history paints a different picture. The Ravens capped their 2012 season with a victory in the biggest game. Since, Baltimore appeared in the playoffs just once. Gruden, after covering many Ravens games, is cognizant of the stout defense and inconsistent offense.
In essence, the Raiders set their sights on these four teams. More importantly, Jon Gruden will rack his mind, devising effective gameplans to defeat them. Granted, many will scream that Jacksonville deserves mention. The answer is no. After that awful offensive performance Sunday and employing Blake Bortles as your quarterback hinders a legitimate playoff shot. The above listed four immediately test Gruden’s acumen.