The game was still four days away, but Jon Gruden was already in full analyst mode.
The former NFL head coach and current “Monday Night Football” color commentator will be in the broadcast booth tonight with play-by-play man Sean McDonough as the Ravens (7-5) play the New England Patriots (10-2) at Gillette Stadium.
In a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun on Thursday, Gruden addressed a number of topics about the Ravens and the much-anticipated game.
On the Ravens’ confidence on defense heading into the matchup:
“I’m sure they’re looking at the reality of the current Patriots, and they’re not going to have [Rob] Gronkowski, and that’s a significant loss. [Danny] Amendola is also out. What you have is the great Tom Brady, arguably the best ever, and he’s surrounded with newcomers every place. He has a second-year center, a rookie left guard, a second-year right guard, a first-year tight end.
"I don’t know much about Malcolm Mitchell. He’s a rookie. [Chris] Hogan just got there from Buffalo. So it’s not like these players could be playing on the same level as Tom Brady. But I saw the Rams game, [and] it looked like a lot of quick passes, several screens. [The Ravens] are going to have to limit the yardage after the catch, and I think their No. 1 obstacle is stopping LeGarrette Blount and then stopping these two halfbacks, [James] White and [Dion] Lewis, when they get into these no-back formations.”
On the notion that the Ravens need to constantly pressure Brady:
“It doesn’t make much sense to blitz a guy that gets rid of the ball in less than 1.5 seconds. I watched the [New York] Jets game. The Jets took them to the brink [in a 22-17 loss on Nov. 27]. I think one of the great things the Ravens do is bat down passes. I think they got Andy Dalton five times a couple of weeks ago. A couple of times, they batted down passes against Pittsburgh. [Timmy] Jernigan got an interception on a batted ball. That’s the thing: Rush with your eyes, and if you can’t get there, throw your hands up and reject a couple of these passes, because the ball is coming out quick. That’s a great thing to do: Shut the run game down and watch out for the screens and quick passes.”
On the job Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees has done this season:
“He’s really good. Rex Ryan got a head coaching job. [Chuck] Pagano got a head coaching job. Jack Del Rio came through there, Marvin Lewis did. They’ve had a history of great defensive coaches. All you have to do is turn on the film and just remember that slogan, ‘Play like a Raven.’ That’s what I see from this defense. They play their asses off. They tackle. [Pees] uses his roster as well as any coach in the league.
"I don’t know who this [Matthew] Judon guy is, from Grand Valley State, but he looks like a Pro Bowler on some of the tapes. Michael Pierce comes in here from Samford College. I’m like, ‘Who is this guy?’ Jernigan has gotten better, Brandon Williams is a load. Zachary Orr is a tackling machine. He’s not even drafted from North Texas. They have two brand-new safeties: [Eric] Weddle, and they moved [Lardarius] Webb back there. You have a rookie, Tavon Young, playing corner. He’s got multiple schemes.
"They can really line up a couple of different ways in their base defense, but they never really play a base defense. They’re always in their sub package, and I love it. They have a very creative, three-down, three-linebacker, five-defensive back sub package that I love. They play their butts off. They can play man coverage, they can play zone coverage and they can play zone pressure coverage, and they don’t give up big plays. They can all tackle. They play like a Raven, and it just looks like they’re having fun.”
How this Ravens defense compares to other, higher-profile groups they’ve had:
“It all starts with stopping the run. With [Tony] Siragusa and Sam Adams, the old Raven teams that really got the party started, they didn’t let guys get up on Ray Lewis. These guys are very similar. They have a nice rotation. They get you behind the chains and they can come after you with a lot of different types of pressures and looks.
"[Terrell] Suggs is still a great player. He’s one of the great closers in pro football. You get him in the two-minute drill with the money on the line, and he’s going to clean you out. And [Elvis] Dumervil looks like he’s healthy. I saw him get Andy Dalton at closing time. With Weddle and Webb back there, they’re policing the field well, they’re getting some turnovers. For that reason, they do remind me of a typical Ravens defense.”
On the Ravens’ turnaround from last year’s 5-11 campaign:
“I’ll tell you what I love the most. John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome, they deserve a lot of credit. They have six or seven rookies making key contributions, and they should give their training staff a raise. That’s what I think. I’m not kidding. These guys came back. I see Dennis Pitta playing, I see Joe Flacco playing, I see Steve Smith playing. I see Jeremy Zuttah out there playing. Lardarius Webb is playing. [Breshad] Perriman is playing. These guys had serious injuries.
"It’s a credit to the players, certainly, and to the training staff, the guys that help these guys get back. It’s awesome to see that veteran nucleus with this newcomer rookie class working together. They’ve improved throughout the season.”
On his anticipation for the game:
“I get excited for big games in December. This is the final four weeks of the season, and this is usually when the Patriots play their best football. And traditionally, when the Ravens have been good, this is when they’ve played their best football. You have two world champion quarterbacks. And I think, to a degree, the Patriots are depleted on offense and they have a lot of newcomers on defense. They do it the 'Patriot Way,' and the Ravens play like Ravens. It’s going to be a hell of a game. I think every yard is going to be hard to get.”