It’s fairly standard in the lead-up to the following week’s game, the head coach is asked about some of the great players on the opposing team. And the fairly standard response is to talk up that player, even if in some cases it requires some slight exaggerations. This goes for coaches and players. They don’t want to underestimate anyone and they surely don’t want to give the other team any bulletin board material.
The problem this week is the best player on the Bears defense is the player Gruden will forever be reminded of having traded before even coaching his first game back in the NFL. He knew he was going to get a few questions about facing Khalil Mack for the first time, so you know he had to be plenty prepared for his response. It wouldn’t be difficult to say flattering things about the former Defensive Player of the Year and only player in NFL history to be named All Pro at two different positions in the same season. But that just wasn’t going to happen.
“The problem is you’re not just scheming for him,” Gruden said when asked about facing Mack. “[Leonard] Floyd is not a bag of rocks. The guy’s great player. They have two of the best inside players in the league and they have a great blitz scheme. So, it’s easier said than done to just put two guys on Mack. They blitz enough where you can’t get help. That’s why we brought in Trent Brown. That’s why we drafted Kolton Miller in the first round. Those guys are going to have some tough snaps against a great player.”
True, Leonard Floyd is no “bag of rocks”. Other things he’s never been is a Pro Bowler, let alone an All Pro. Other things he’s never been is a double digit sack guy. He has as many sacks in four seasons as Mack has had since the beginning of last season.
And are we really going to act like the blitz scheme is what frees up Mack? I think it’s fair to assume that just about everyone reading this watched Mack in his time with the Raiders and saw how he was double teamed constantly and wrecked those double teams with regularity. He was the only defender on the Raiders worth even talking about for most of his time in Oakland, causing opposing teams to focus solely on stopping him and he still got his.
Mack at least admits he’s been looking forward to this game. Because of course he is. I think it’s safe to say Gruden has not been looking forward to this meeting.
Gruden can act like he’s spreading the focus around and Mack is just another defender on a great defense, but you can bet he will be focused heavily on keeping the man he traded away from destroying his offense on Sunday. Otherwise, the questions will only ramp up. Questions he absolutely does not want to answer.