On ESPN's Monday Night Football, former Raiders and Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden has become something of a sensation since joining the broadcasts .Even when he's not praising "this guy" or "that guy", his enthusiasm for the game of football really adds energy to the broadcasts, especially alongside two such subdued broadcast partners in Mike Tirico and Ron Jaworski.
This week the trio had their annual media conference call to talk about the upcoming season. We can take away from the call the fact that Gruden is very high on the New England Patriots this season. When asked about the Monday Night Football season opener, which features the Patriots traveling to south Florida to take on the Miami Dolphins, Gruden said:
I think New England is the team to beat in the AFC this year for obvious reasons. They got the best coach, and they have the best quarterback combination. You could argue that, but they're dynamic. And I think their young players that emerged and exploded onto the scene last year will be even better. Hernandez, Gronkowski, a number of players will even be better this year than they were a year ago.
Gruden picks the Patriots to win the AFC East over the Jets, something that fellow analyst Ron Jaworski isn't yet convinced of. When the panel was asked about the Patriots/Jets rivalry in the AFC East, Jaworski talked about the Jets on offense and stated:
If Bill Callahan can keep that group together, keep them healthy, I think they can surpass the Patriots.
Later in the session a reporter wanted more detail on the playoff game between the two clubs, and what the Patriots learned about themselves from that game and whether they've corrected the weaknesses that were exposed in that game.
Jaworski went first, noting that it's still much too early to determine whether the Patriots have made the necessary adjustments, but did observe that from his study of the game tape, it seemed to him that New England went into that game with the same plan that they used when they routed the Jets 45-3 just a few weeks earlier. They planned for a lot of blitzes and different looks from Rex Ryan and the Jets defense. But then, as Jaworski said:
All of a sudden, they're in a playoff game, and they got a lot of those looks. But they converted to three-man rush and four-man rush and different bracket coverage underneath and a lot of zone coverage underneath. I think to a certain degree they spooked Tom Brady in that game. You know, when I went through that tape, I thought there were a number of plays left on the field by Tom Brady, which is highly unusual. Normally, Tom can decode a defense rather quickly, but he really struggled in that game to figure out what the Jets were doing.
It's an interesting observation in that it puts a lot of the blame for that loss on Tom Brady. You don't hear that a lot. Jaworski said that we won't really know if the proper adjustments have been made until the regular season begins, but that knowing Bill Belichick and his staff, they almost certainly have made adjustments coming into this season.
He had noted earlier that the NFL is a copycat league and we can expect other teams - such as the Dolphins on Monday night - to try and put the type of pressure on Brady that the Jets did, and which the Detroit Lions did in last week's preseason game.
Gruden, on the other hand, gave the credit to Rex Ryan and the Jets rather than talking about the weaknesses displayed by the Patriots. He did say this, though:
But David Harris did intercept the screen pass, run it back for a touchdown. Alge Crumpler dropped a touchdown pass. Those two plays could have -- I say could have -- really changed the momentum and the outcome of that game. You can't make mistakes against the New York Jets. They're a good enough team to knock you out if you don't play your best football. Clearly, that's what happened last year. The Patriots were off, and the Jets were on.
Sometimes it really is as simple as that. From the sounds of things, it appears that Gruden and Jaworski expect the Patriots to have more "on" days than "off" days this upcoming season.