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Gruden's Playoff Plan

As the sun sets on the NFL’s regular season, everyone’s favorite gravelly voiced (and wildly overexcited) color commentator, former coach, and current ESPN analyst Jon Gruden, gives a primer to the post-season.

The house is always packed with buzzed relatives during the holidays. What’s better: trying to catch a game live out of the corner of my eye, or watching it on DVR?

You gotta see it live. The electricity is awesome and you can cut the intensity with a knife. The players look beautiful, everybody’s got their fancy uniforms on. You’re not a fan if you don’t watch the game when it’s on. That’s just me. That’s the kind of people I like to be around. 

What’s something I can look for to determine if my team’s dialed in or not?
I love watching pregame warmups—these guys come out, they’re all business. You can even see it in the opening kickoff.

What are teams doing differently at this stage in the season to prepare? 
Doing a self-scout on your own team is huge. You don’t want to get away from what got you to the playoffs in the first place. But you’ve also put 16 games on tape for your opponents to see—they’ve studied everything you’ve done at the goal line or from two-minute drills. You’ve got to study yourself and know what you’ve shown them. And it might be a great opportunity to come up with a play that starts off looking like what they think it is, but isn’t. 

What makes for a great playoff halftime speech?
You try to say a few words about how the team will never be together again. The way free agency, the draft, and everything impacts rosters and coaching staffs, nothing stays the same. Or, when Sean Payton was on his mission toward their Super Bowl [with the New Orleans Saints], he had one of the local banks come in and lay out a hundred grand in cash: “This is what you’re playing for—per man.” 

Which player is especially dangerous in the postseason? 
[Baltimore Ravens QB] Joe Flacco is always solid during the regular season, but when he gets into the playoffs, there’s something about him—he just turns it up another notch. And Tom Brady—in sudden-death games, you just wish you weren’t playing New England. 

Is Brady even human? 
This guy’s a freak, man. Brady is a human shredding machine right now! He doesn’t just go to the beach and lie down during his time off. He works year-round. He’s into his diet, into flexibility. He’s obsessed with the details. He’s as focused on football as any guy I’ve ever seen. 

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Who would you say is the smartest player in the NFL right now?
I like Brady and [Saints QB Drew] Brees. When you meet these guys you see they could be CEOs. They run the team. They orchestrate practice during the lockout periods, like, during CBA [collective bargaining agreement negotiations]. These guys are installing, calling, and running plays without coaches even around. On defense, it’s always inside guys like middle linebackers and safeties. [The Seattle Seahawks’] Bobby Wagner and Earl Thomas—these guys are football junkies. 

Game-calling has changed so much over the years—you guys are talking about Cover 2 and 3-4 defenses versus 4-3 defenses. Does anyone really understand this?
The access to information is unbelievable. Fans are watching coaches’ video—they can buy it online now. Some of the fans know as much about football as the guys calling the plays. 

If you could change one rule in the NFL, what would it be?
Instant replay—I would eliminate all of it. Everything’s disputed now. Was he inbounds? Was it a turnover? It’s taken the juice out of the stadium. There are too many timeouts. Let the people on the field officiate and hold them accountable. Look, there’s going to be some bang-bang plays that have to be officiated. And who’s going to make the decision? The instant replay man in New York City?

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